The Auburn Tigers are getting set for the program's annual A-Day spring game on Saturday, April 20, and there are some exciting battles shaping up.
New head coach Gus Malzahn has his hands full shaping this program into a winner after last year's debacle of a season. The SEC is an unforgiving proving ground, and Malzahn must quickly turn things around if he hopes to stick around for long.
Though most of the players from last year's squad will be returning for the 2013 season, fans shouldn't expect the Tigers to look anything like they did in 2012.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the most critical positional battles heating up this spring.
It's pretty tough to win games in any conference, let alone the SEC, without a dynamic quarterback.
Sophomore Jonathan Wallace and junior Kiehl Frazier are the two favorites to win the job, but, should both men fail to impress, incoming freshman Jeremy Johnson and JUCO transfer Nick Marshall will be waiting in the wings.
The team is switching to a hurry-up, no-huddle offense this season under new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, but the change isn't coming easy.
According to AL.com's Joel A. Erickson, after the team's scrimmage on April 6, Lashlee didn't see as much out of the two favorites as he'd like:
"At quarterback, neither one of them are processing information fast enough," Lashlee said on Friday. "I'm seeing them go to the right place with the football or do the right thing, but it's maybe a step behind where we need to be. And you can't be late on things."
The team's spring game will give both Wallace and Frazier a chance to prove their stuff, and this matchup will no doubt be the biggest one coaches and fans will be watching next Saturday.
Starting Inside Linebacker
The Tigers offense isn't the only unit going through a big transition this season.
Malzahn brought on veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who engineered three top-15 defenses during his four years with the South Carolina Gamecocks utilizing his 4-2-5 scheme.
Sophomore Chris Frost will attempt to overtake senior Jake Holland as the team's inside linebacker in Johnson's scheme, and the two of them will be engaged in this battle likely throughout the summer.
According to AL.com's Erickson, Johnson wants his "Mike" to be a vocal leader who is adept at communicating on the field. Thus far, it's been the youngster Frost who has embraced that role, according to Erickson's report:
Frost, who was asked to play on the outside as a weak-side linebacker last season, has embraced the vocal role of the position early in practice, impressing Johnson with his ability to communicate.
Nothing is set in stone, though, and this battle between Frost and Holland will be one to keep a close eye on throughout the spring and into the summer. They'll both have a great chance to make a lasting and positive impression next Saturday during the spring game.
If you've been keeping up with the team's news since Malzahn and Johnson came to Auburn, you're familiar with Johnson's "Star" position in his 4-2-5 scheme.
For those of you who may not know what this is, a "Star" is a linebacker/safety hybrid who needs to be able to cover as well as play close to the line of scrimmage.
This spring, two players have emerged as the favorites to win this positional battle: junior Justin Garrett and redshirt freshman JaViere Mitchell.
From the early reports coming out of spring practice, this seems like Garrett's job to lose. He's been languishing the past couple of seasons at Auburn as an undersized backup linebacker, but he has the speed to excel in Johnson's defense.
According to AL.com's Erickson, Malzahn recently singled out Garrett as a player who stood out to him during practices, "Garrett made a couple of big hits again. He's setting the tone for the defense. We need more guys playing like him."
He'll have his chance to shine next Saturday, but should he struggle, Mitchell is waiting in the wings.
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