Auburn Spring Game 2013: Blue and White Team Analysis
Auburn fans have not had an up-close and personal look at their Tigers since watching a lopsided Iron Bowl last November.
That changes on Saturday, April 20 when the annual A-day game kicks off in Jordan-Hare Stadium at 2:05 p.m. ET. It will be the first look at the Tigers under new head coach Gus Malzahn, who replaces former head coach Gene Chizik.
He brings back with him the high-scoring and fast-paced offense that took Auburn to the Arizona desert in 2010 for the BCS national championship.
The scrimmage will be as close to a game-like atmosphere as it possibly can be, a far cry from what Auburn fans grew accustomed to under the former regime. Chizik always had a very confusing scoring system that left Auburn fans scratching their head at the score.
"We've not put guys as far as starters or really even second-team, but we will have two separate offenses, two separate defenses and try to make it as close to a game as we can," Malzahn told the media after practice on Wednesday (h/t Joel Erickson, al.com).
Following the game on Saturday, Auburn will have an "Auburn Oaks Celebration," as Auburn fans can roll Toomer's corner one final time before the trees are removed on April 23.
There are a ton of storylines and position battles on both sides of the ball going into Saturday's game that pits the blue team versus the white team.
Bleacher Report will be there live covering all the action, so be sure to join us. To tide you over until then, here is some useful information about A-day this Saturday.
When and Where to Watch
Corey Grant runs the ball in practice on April 17, 2013. Photo credit: Todd Van Emst / Auburn media relations
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
When: Saturday, April 20 at 2:05 p.m. ET
Live Stream: There will be a live stream on ESPN3.com.
Watch: Cable customers in the Southeast can watch the game live on CSS.
Photo credit: Todd Van Emst / Auburn media relations
Until the 2013 signees arrive on campus in the summer, Auburn only has two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
Both Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier started games for Auburn last year. The two have split reps this spring with the first-team offense.
The QB battle will likely last well into fall camp.
However, a strong performance in the Saturday's spring game could give one of the two an upper hand on the competition heading into summer workouts. With only a few weeks in fall camp before the first real game, it will be hard for the newcomers to leap frog Frazier or Wallace if either has a strong performance in the A-Day game.
Both Frazier and Wallace have said they are more comfortable in this system. Frazier should feel right at home, as he has played in this offense every year since eighth grade.
Until last year.
"This is an offense that I’m a lot more comfortable with,” Frazier told the media on March 30. “Really, when I got recruited, this is what I was expecting to run when I got to Auburn. So it’s good to get back to it" (h/t Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer).
Auburn is awaiting the arrival of signees Peyton Barber and Johnathan Ford, but there is already a good battle at the running back position.
RB Tre Mason has spent most of the spring limited on contact, as he is nursing an ankle injury. But Auburn coaches are aware of what the 1,000-yard rusher is capable of.
Auburn fans will need to keep their eye on JUCO transfer Cameron Artis-Payne. He is thought to be someone who can come in and contribute immediately in Malzahn's offense, as he runs with a physical style and low to the ground.
Corey Grant was the spring star last spring, but that turned into only nine carries in the fall.
He's had another solid spring this year.
"He's a hard worker. He does a lot of dirty work. He made a couple of good runs [in the scrimmage]," Malzahn said. "He's got the potential to fit in our offense" (h/t Brandon Marcello, al.com).
Auburn is going through spring practice with only five scholarship receivers. Someone among those five players needs to turn into a consistent, downfield threat for Auburn.
Keep an eye out for Jaylon Denson in the game. He has turned heads with his play this spring.
WR Sammie Coates is a guy who is built like he is ready to play at the next level, but his inconsistency in the passing game has hurt his development into an impact playmaker.
In the slot, it will be interesting to see if Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee give us an idea on how they plan to use Trovon Reed and Quan Bray.
Both WRs have shown potential to break games open with their athleticism, but to this point, it has only been on the practice field.
Nosa Eguae. Photo credit: Lauren Barnard / AU Media relations
With only two linebackers in defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme, the battle is fierce for the two starting spots. Jake Holland, Cassanova McKinzy, LaDarius Owens and Kris Frost are all campaigning on A-Day for a starting spot in the fall.
Owens made the move from defensive end to linebacker this spring. It is the position he was originally recruited for.
The linebacker position has been a liability in recent years, and Auburn fans will be watching this position like a hawk in the A-Day game in hopes that they will see better tackling and better angles than in the past.
Johnson was critical of his defensive line a couple of weeks ago, indicating there isn't a lot of depth beyond the first unit.
"Our first unit is way head of our second unit," Johnson said. "There's a huge drop off. That would be a point of concern right now. I don't think we've got four tackles. I don't think we've got four ends who play at a level we've got to have. Hopefully by the end of spring we will." (h/t Brandon Marcello, al.com)
Johnson would like to have at least a six-man playing rotation along the offensive line. Auburn fans should get a good idea if he'll have one in Saturday's scrimmage.
A ton of praise has been heaped on Justin Garrett for his play at the new "Star" position that serves as a hybrid linebacker and defensive back.
Before handing Garrett the keys to that position, keep a close eye on Robenson Therezie, who also has impressed at the position.
Early Enrollees to Watch
Cameron Artis-Payne. Photo credit: Lauren Barnard / Auburn Media Relations
Running Back, No. 44—Cameron Artis-Payne, 5'11", 208 lbs., Jr.
Originally a commitment to the former staff, Artis-Payne stayed true to his pledge to become an Auburn Tiger when Malzahn took over.
He's a big addition to the Auburn backfield. He gives Auburn a bigger body to run between the tackles, although the smaller Tre Mason proved he could do the task last year.
He also brings experience, as he came from the junior college route. If he turns in a big performance on Saturday, expectations will skyrocket for Artis-Payne in the fall.
Defensive Tackle, No. 50—Ben Bradley, 6'1", 310 lbs., Soph.
Bradley is one of three players that the Auburn staff picked up from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas for the 2013 recruiting class in their push for immediate help.
Bradley hopes to deliver immediate help. However, arriving to camp with a few extra pounds and not in shape have not helped his case.
If Bradley can get in the shape he needs to be, he has the talent to be a great player in his time at Auburn. As a freshman at Hutchinson last fall, Bradley recorded 43 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Offensive Guard, No. 53—Devonte Danzey, 6'4", 284 lbs., Soph.
Auburn's depth at the offensive guard position took a hit when Christian Westerman left the Auburn football team and transferred to Arizona State last December.
To fill that spot, the Auburn coaching staff turned to Hutchinson Community College yet again. What they found was Danzey, who was the nation's top ranked JUCO guard, according to 247sports.
So far this spring, Danzey has been at left guard for the second-team offense.
He has had his struggles adjusting to the pace of the Auburn offense, which is no surprise.
"It's lot faster than what I thought it was going to be," Danzey said. "We ran a fast-pace offense in juco but nothing compared to this" (h/t Brandon Marcello, al.com).
With a strong spring scrimmage and more time to adjust, he can make his move for the first team in the fall.
Gus Malzahn at the pre-spring press conference. Photo credit: Todd Van Emst / AU media relations
Malzahn's first spring game as Auburn's head coach will be much different than the ones that Auburn fans saw under Chizik.
For one, Malzahn will show more of the offense that has been installed than Chizik did. For better or worse, Malzahn does not keep things as close to the vest as Chizik did.
Although Auburn fans saw the offense run fast in his time as offensive coordinator, the offense that they see on Saturday will be as fast if not faster than it was at any time from 2009-2011.
In the trenches, the offensive line will have the upper hand. Don't be surprised if that group whips the defensive line unit.
At the quarterback position, Auburn fans will not leave the Saturday's A-day game feeling any better about that spot than they did in November.
However, a playmaker will emerge on Saturday for the offense. Last year it was Corey Grant. This year, Sammie Coates will emerge as the next downfield threat for the Tigers offense.
For the defense, Auburn fans will walk away Saturday feeling much better about the unit than it has in a long time, especially in the secondary.
Finally, I expect a record crowd in town for the festivities of the game and after the game.
All hotels in the Auburn-Opelika area are sold out for A-Day weekend. It's going to be a special weekend. Don't miss it!#wareagle
— Auburn Football (@FootballAU) April 18, 2013
In the 2010 spring game, 63,217 fans watched Auburn unveil Cam Newton as they let him throw just eight passes.
I believe there will be over 65,000 fans on the Auburn campus this weekend for the game and for the final rolling of Toomer's Oaks.