Auburn Football: Winners and Losers of 2013 Spring Game
The Gus Malzahn era has officially begun in Auburn with the annual A-Day game marking the first time the public has seen this program under his guidance. Attendance was at an all-time high for A-Day with 83,401 fans in Jordan-Hare Stadium to take in the game (per AL.com).
The Tigers played solidly on both sides of the ball, but there were some issues held over from last season as expected.
The quarterback competition was going strong all day, and JUCO transfer Cameron Artis-Payne announced himself to the crowd with his electric play. Here is a look at how the Tigers fared in the spring game.
Winner: Cameron Artis-Payne, RB
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Gus Malzahn offenses are known for rushing production, and this Tigers team will be no different. There was an ongoing search this spring to find depth behind incumbent starter Tre Mason with the search ending on Saturday.
Cameron Artis-Payne was the most explosive player on the field for Auburn Saturday. By the second half, he had accumulated over 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving, working with both the Orange and Blue squads.
One screen play started with a one-handed grab and two missed tackles before Artis-Payne had gone three yards. It ended as a 50-yard gain.
The Tigers have found a workhorse in Artis-Payne, and his spring performance just electrified the fanbase.
Loser: Backup Running Backs
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Auburn will run the football this fall, but before it does so effectively, the team has to find bodies to carry the ball.
Tre Mason is the incumbent starter, but he has missed a lot of time this spring with injury and didn’t play much on A-Day. Corey Grant is a talented but unproven commodity who sat out of the game.
Outside of JUCO transfer Cameron Artis-Payne, the running back duties were handled by walk-ons. It wasn’t pretty.
The position group struggled with turnovers, giving up two fumbles over the course of the day. The offense also failed to look efficient from the backfield when Artis-Payne was on the sideline.
This summer will bring a lot of focus to the backfield as the Tigers try and build depth among the ranks.
Winner: Defensive Line
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When Gus Malzahn was hiring his staff, there was a lot of focus surrounding his assistant hires. The Tigers were in need of new blood, and it came with the hiring of Rodney Gardner from Georgia.
Gardner is an Auburn alum and has already worked magic with this unit.
The most noticeable changes for this team on Saturday was the push of the defensive line, and the aggression the unit played with. As a whole, the unit also looked more athletic and game-ready compared to a year ago.
Kenneth Carter was a major highlight, recovering two fumbles. He recently made the move from defensive tackle to defensive end, and the shift appears to be paying dividends.
This unit will be worlds better than they were in 2012 under Gardner’s instruction. In only three weeks of practice, he has returned the energy and fire to a deflated position group.
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Dropped interceptions and missed tackles continue to be a problem for this unit. Saturday, the Tigers lunged at tackles and dropped more than their fair share of picks. It has been a recurring theme over the past four years.
New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is bringing about a change, and it should pay off by the fall, but tackling drills have to be a focus as spring comes to a close.
Creating turnovers and making open-field tackles are what make a solid secondary. Right now, Auburn isn’t there.
If there was a bright a spot, it was the “Star” position, but there is still a lot of work to do before this group is helping Auburn win championships.
Winner: Kiehl Frazier, QB
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For the first time since the Clemson opener in 2012, Kiehl Frazier looked like a confident quarterback. He was precise on his intermediate and short throws, and he was able to lay the deep ball in position consistently.
There were also a few throws that Frazier made to the outside shoulder of Sammie Coates in man coverage that deserve praise.
Frazier looked poised in the pocket and actually went through his progressions in this game. Granted it was a spring game, but watching Frazier throw to multiple receivers instead of to the same number was a plus.
At this point, it looks like Frazier’s job to lose, but there is a lot of time between now and August. If he continues to improve his touch on short throws and stay poised in the pocket, the Tigers will have a quarterback.
Loser: Offensive Line
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Cameron Artis-Payne may have had a solid day from the backfield, but most of his yards came on misdirection’s or zone-read plays.
The Tigers offensive line was bad on A-Day. Granted they are working to build a rotation and find the right chemistry, but there was a lot of penetration by the defense that shouldn’t have been there.
One of the biggest issues last fall was pass-protection breakdowns, and they were abundant on A-Day.
Of all the position groups for Auburn, the offensive line has the biggest leap forward before it becomes an elite unit.