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What We Learned Week 1 of Fall Camp

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The Tigers have six practices under their belt and are gearing up for their first scrimmage of camp tomorrow.

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Fall camp is my favorite time of the season. You know real football is right around the corner. All the “insiders” are dropping notes about how your favorite players are finally breaking out and how this year everything will be different because the team is more focused, more united, and more ready for the grind of the SEC.

Everyone will be undefeated in fall camp.

For new Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin, camp so far has been about drilling players to consistently execute the small things that will make the schemes on both sides of the ball successful. It’s about giving everyone reps and letting the cream rise to the top. Tomorrow will be a major measuring point as the Tigers partake in their first scrimmage of the fall. So now feels like a good time to reflect on what we’ve learned thus far this month.

Transfers Making Early Impact

Not many Power 5 programs made use of the portal more heavily than the Tigers. On the defensive side of the ball, Auburn was extremely aggressive bringing in six players who have starting experience. The expectation was that this group would be ready to contribute immediately. So far, that looks to be the case.

With the news that super senior Tyrone Truesdell will not be apart of the team this fall, all eyes shifted to UAB transfer Tony Fair. The big man has impressed teammates thus far with his work ethic and quickness. New defensive line coach Nick Eason is challenging the veteran to be a three down player, not just a gap plugging specialist. Given Truesdell’s departure and Jeremiah Wright’s injury, it would be a surprise not to see Fair earn the starting role at nose tackle for the Tigers.

Another defensive lineman vying for a starting spot is Kansas transfer Marcus Harris. I believed at the time of his commitment that Harris would end up being the most impactful transfer for the Tigers. I am liking that prediction more and more each day as it appears he’s taken the lead for the end spot opposite Wooden. The two combined to record 16.5 tackles for loss last fall. It could be a very disruptive duo for SEC offensive lines to handle this season especially when the Tigers are in their 2-4-5 package.

At edge, Northwestern transfer Eku Leota looks poised to see meaningful snaps though a starting spot is far from assured. Veteran T.D. Moultry is once again putting together a strong fall camp and looks to be the favorite to win the starting job opposite Hall. However, I still wouldn’t be surprised to see the former Wildcat on the field first when the Tigers face Akron. Either way, Hall, Moultry, Leota, and Romello Height will see extensive action.

In the secondary, Auburn added three impact players though so far only two appear to be close to earning starting roles. Unsurprisingly, Donovan Kaufman has seen plenty of reps with the 1st team. Kaufman was a true freshman starter for Derek Mason in 2020 and arrived on the Plains with an already extensive knowledge of the scheme. He’s been battling Ladarius Tennison and Zion Puckett for the starting Nickel spot though he was getting 1st team reps at field safety during the 11 on 11 period yesterday. Whether he’s specifically a starter or not, Auburn fans should expect to see plenty of the former Commodore this season.

The same is true for SEMO transfer Bydarrius Knighten who up until yesterday was the player seeing the most snaps alongside Smoke Monday on the back of Auburn’s defense. In fact, Mason mentioned how Knighten and Smoke have been perfect complements thus far. I think the former FCS All-American is the favorite to win the field safety starting gig.

Surprisingly, there’s been very little Dreshun Miller buzz to date. He honestly has the hardest road to seeing the field as he must out duel Nehemiah Pritchett and Jaylin Simpson for the spot opposite Roger McCreary. So far, he’s only been seen getting 3rd team reps but I wouldn’t read too much into it just yet. Of the three transfers, it appears Miller might need the most time to get acclimated to Auburn’s scheme. I fully expect to see him move up the depth chart in the coming weeks though a starting gig is far from a certainty. Right now, Nehemiah Pritchett is probably the favorite.

On the other side of the ball, SEC transfers TJ Finley and Demetris Robertson have both flashed during the viewing periods. It’s hard to miss Finley who stands 6’7” and he’s looked durn good throwing the football. Robertson arrived late to camp and only yesterday was cleared for full action but his quickness and speed has stood out. There’s a chance neither starts to begin the year but both could play extremely important roles for the Tigers as the season wears on.

Will Friend Looking For Best Five

Will Friend’s task through the first week of fall camp has been simple and straightforward — find the five best offensive lineman on the team and get them on the field. In pursuit of that goal Friend has rolled out a different “first team” offensive line seemingly every day. Cross training has been a huge part of Auburn’s first practices as the staff tries to evaluate who fits best where and how to get the best players on the field.

Right now, it appears that six players have differentiated themselves in terms of having the best change of earning a starting nod. Those six appear to be Nick Brahms, Brodarious Hamm, Brandon Council, Austin Troxell, Tashawn Manning, and Alec Jackson. I’d go as far as to say that the right side of Auburn’s offensive line is pretty much set with Brahms at center, Council at right guard and Hamm at right tackle. While Hamm and Council have swapped spots some this fall to form an intriguing looking lineup, I still think it’s more likely that Council stays inside.

Where things get interesting is on the left side of the line. I thought Tashawn Manning would have been one of the most consistent first teamers but that has not been the case with Alec Jackson and Jalil Irvin both getting looks at that spot too. Austin Troxell spent much of the first practices holding down the first team left tackle spot but Jackson has been first up there the last two days. This group probably won’t be settled until we get closer to kickoff and it would not surprise me to see Friend use those first two games as final evaluation opportunities.

I should note that part time starter last year Keiondre Jones is not listed in that first tier. That’s because he’s yet to actively participate in the any drills during the viewing period. Bryan Harsin has limited the media’s ability to report on who is hurt or who is missing from practice but I think it’s safe to say that Jones is battling back from some sort of nagging injury. He’ll undoubtedly get a chance to fight for a starting spot when he gets back but he’s missing valuable snaps right now.

Surprise Standouts

Just like spring practice, there are always players who emerge from obscurity to become impact players for the Tigers during fall camp. A few names have popped up consistently over the first week, none more often than Malcolm Johnson Jr.

The former blue chipper out of Virginia was a major recruiting coup for former Auburn WR coach Kodi Burns. Burns convinced the speedster to reclassify and enroll early last fall allowing the Tigers to steal him away from programs like Alabama and Georgia. He didn’t see much action last fall and there wasn’t a ton of buzz about him during spring practice but he’s been a name that’s consistently come up when insiders have reported on who has stood out early. Johnson even saw action with the first team WR rotation during yesterday’s 11 on 11. Given his combination of size and speed, he could feasibly play all 3 WR spots though I believe right now he’s spending more time at the Z.

As I mentioned earlier, Jalil Irvin has been a surprise player to see first team reps early this camp. Both Brodarius Hamm and Brandon Council mentioned the junior as someone who has really stepped up his play this fall. I still think his odds of starting are slim but he’s someone that I think Auburn fans should have penciled in for the Tigers’ starting 2022 offensive line.

Defensively, Lee Hunter appears to be building on his successful spring. The freshman probably isn’t a “surprise starter” per se but I was surprised to hear J.J. Pegues mention him as one of the leaders of the defensive line. Hunter will very likely be the #2 nose tackle when Auburn opens the season against Akron. A collegiate strength and conditioning program has done wonders for the Mobile native and it would not be a surprise to see him have a big freshman season.

Finally, camp all-star T.D. Moultry is at it again. The former top 100 player has flashed big time potential but struggled to consistently stay on the field due to nagging injuries and mental miscues. But despite those struggles, Moultry has stuck around and continued to compete. He’s reportedly thriving in Mason’s new scheme at the EDGE spot opposite Hall. I know most fans are going to need to see it to believe it but the early returns have been incredibly positive for TD. I’d love nothing more than for him to go out with a bang this fall.

Updated Depth Chart Projection

I did a depth chart projection before fall camp but I wanted to post updated ones week by week based off reported intel and practice observations. This won’t be anywhere as in depth as my previous articles, more of a quick look at how the 2 deep may be shaking out. If a player is not listed, it means I don’t expect him to see much action this fall. Again, this is just my interpretation of what we’ve seen and what has been reported. This will likely be changed around a bunch over the coming weeks.

Offense

  • QB: Bo Nix / TJ Finley
  • RB: Tank Bigsby / Shaun Shivers / Jarquez Hunter
  • WR (X): Ze’Vian Capers or Elijah Canion / Shedrick Jackson
  • WR (Y): Malcolm Johnson Jr. or Demetris Robertson / Kobe Hudson
  • WR (Z): Ja’Varrius Johnson / Tar’Varish Dawson
  • TE: John Samuel Shenker or Luke Deal / Tyler Fromm / Brandon Frazier or Landen King
  • LT: Austin Troxell or Alec Jackson / Kilian Zierer
  • LG: Tashawn Manning or Alec Jackson / Jalil Irvin
  • C: Nick Brahms / Jalil Irvin
  • RG: Brandon Council / Tate Johnson
  • RT: Brodarious Hamm / Brenden Coffey

Defense

  • DE: Colby Wooden / Caleb Johnson / Dre Butler
  • NT: Tony Fair / Lee Hunter
  • DT: Marcus Harris or Marquis Burks / Zykeivous Walker / JJ Pegues
  • STUD: Derick Hall / Romello Height
  • RUSH: TD Moultry or Eku Leota
  • MIKE: Owen Pappoe / Chandler Wooten
  • WILL: Zakoby McClain / Wesley Steiner
  • Nickel: Ladarius Tennison or Donovan Kaufman / Zion Puckett
  • CB: Roger McCreary / Dreshun Miller
  • CB: Nehemiah Pritchett / Jaylin Simpson
  • FS: Bydarrius Knighten or Donovan Kaufman / Zion Puckett
  • BS: Smoke Monday / Cayden Bridges

War Eagle!