Although the Auburn Tigers still have two practices remaining in their spring schedule, new head coach Gus Malzahn put an unofficial bow on his first spring as Auburn's head coach on Saturday.
In front of 83,401 orange-and-blue-clad Auburn faithful, the Tigers gave the fans an exciting spring game that saw the Orange defeat the Blue, 35-14.
Prior to spring practice, Malzahn said that one of his goals in the 15 sessions was to establish a two-deep depth chart.
Was that accomplished?
"We are getting close, there's no doubt," Malzahn said in the postgame press conference. "We got a lot of information as coaches. We have two more practices which will be another good one that will help us evaluate. But, every time you go and we have gone live quite a bit and anytime you go through scrimmages, that's when you really find out a lot."
There was some shifting around in personnel this spring, so let's get caught up on what Auburn's two-deep depth chart looks like after an overall solid performance in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
*All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted
First team: Jonathan Wallace (6'2", 209 lbs., Sophomore)
Second team: Kiehl Frazier (6'2", 234 lbs., Junior)
Both Wallace and Frazier split reps with the first-team offense on Saturday, as they have for the entirety of spring practice.
Both had their highs and lows, specifically with turnovers. On the first play from scrimmage for the Orange team, the snap from center sailed past Wallace, resulting in a touchdown for star-back Justin Garrett. Kiehl Frazier didn't turn the ball over, but his performance included a few errant throws, which happened all too often in 2012.
When Wallace was in the game, the offense clicked much better.
Wallace finished the day going 18-of-26 for 191 yards, two TDs and one interception playing for both the Orange and Blue teams. Frazier's line: 10-of-16, 125 yards and one TD.
Auburn's starting QB on August 31 may not even be on campus. Neither Wallace nor Frazier separated himself in Saturday's scrimmage.
First team: Tre Mason (5'10", 196 lbs., Junior)
Second Team: Cameron Artis-Payne (5'11", 208 lbs., Junior)
The running backs were a bright spot in Saturday's scrimmage.
Battling a nagging ankle injury for most of spring, Mason didn't have a lot of opportunity to impress his new coaches. He didn't have to because the coaching staff knows what they have in Mason.
"He’s a little bit ahead of the others as far as knowing the offense, so it’s probably not a bad thing that the guys are getting the majority of the reps right now," Malzahn said on April 10 (h/t Brandon Marcello, al.com).
Still, Mason got a chance to show off in front of the crowd. "Tre, that's really the first work he's done in live work since he got injured so he wasn't 100 percent. He got in there and he played hard and did some good things," Malzahn said after the game.
Mason finished with 60 yards and a TD on 11 carries.
Newcomer Artis-Payne likely reminded Auburn fans of another No. 44 that thrived in Malzahn's offense on Saturday. Ben Tate was a successful back that had great success in Malzahn's system in his first year as Auburn's offensive coordinator in 2009.
Artis-Payne was the leading rusher on Saturday, going for 117 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He also made an outstanding play with his hands when Frazier found him on a bootleg that he took 42 yards.
Malzahn was also complimentary of Artis-Payne—who won offensive MVP—on Saturday. "I tell you what, he made some really good runs. He's a big downhill back. He's gotten better. You know, he's a junior college guy coming in. I believe the first few practice his head was spinning. He slowed down and really made some good runs in our lineup and did a solid job."
Corey Grant, last year's spring standout, has been very sick and was not able to participate in A-Day.
Both Mason and Artis-Payne will contribute a great amount to the offense this fall. Signees Jonathan Ford and Peyton Barber may also compete for a spot on the two-deep when they arrive on campus this summer.
First team: H-Back Jay Prosch (6'0", 247 lbs., Senior)/TE Brandon Fulse (6'4", 264 lbs., Junior)
Second team: H-Back Patrick Young (6'4", 229 lbs., Junior)/TE C.J. Uzomah (6'4", 253 lbs., Junior)
Fulse did a lot of good things on Saturday. For most of his career at Auburn, he has not had a chance to show off his receiving skills. That changed on A-Day.
"I had a touchdown catch, my blocking was pretty good," Fulse said postgame. "I had a chance to spread out because I'm going to play on the outside more, working more in space" (h/t Joel Erickson, al.com).
With former TE and fan favorite Philip Lutzenkirchen gone, Fulse has an opportunity to break out in 2013.
Uzomah has also had a strong spring and will see the field a lot in 2013. He will compete with Fulse for the starting nod at the TE position in the fall.
Prosch's Saturday performance looked very similar to what he has done for most of his college career. He paved the way for Auburn's RBs. Prosch proved last year that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, but his role is to open holes for Mason and Auburn's other backs.
First team (Z,Y,X): Jaylon Denson (6'3", 216 lbs., Junior), Trovon Reed (6'0", 190 lbs., Junior), Ricardo Louis (6'2", 217 lbs., Sophomore)
Second team (Z,Y,X): Sammie Coates (6'2", 201 lbs., Junior), Quan Bray (5'10", 183 lbs., Junior), Melvin Ray (6'3", 218 lbs., Sophomore)
A big part of Auburn's offensive struggles, especially at QB, is that a WR has yet to step up and establish himself as a downfield threat over the last two years. All defenses had to do last year was take away former WR Emory Blake to shut down down the Auburn passing attack.
Denson has had a very strong spring. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee raved about the junior in spring practice. "Right now, if you said who do I know that I can count on, I know I can count on him, six days in," Lashlee said on April 7 (h/t Brandon Marcello, al.com).
Louis led the Tigers in catches on Saturday, hauling in eight catches for 66 yards. Yardage-wise, Coates led the Auburn offense with 84 yards on four catches as he made big plays downfield behind the secondary. The question surrounding Coates is if he can do those things consistently.
Coates thinks the WRs can be a very successful group this fall. "This offense is made for each wide receiver to make plays," Coates said on April 15. "We're looking forward to making all the plays we can as a team and as a wide receiver group because we've got the best wide receivers group, I think, around" (h/t Brandon Marcello, al.com).
First team: LT Greg Robinson (6'5", 314 lbs., Sophomore), LG Alex Kozan (6'4", 292 lbs., RS Freshman), C Reese Dismukes (6'3", 290 lbs., Junior), RG Chad Slade (6'5", 308 lbs., Junior), RT Patrick Miller (6'7", 283 lbs., Sophomore)
Second team: LT Shon Coleman (6'6" 294 lbs., Sophomore), LG Devonte Danzey (6'4" 284 lbs., Sophomore), C Tunde Fariyike (6'2" 307 lbs., Junior), RG Jordan Diamond (6'6" 314 lbs., Sophomore), RT Avery Young (6'6" 314 lbs., Sophomore)
The offensive line lost the battle at the line of scrimmage in Saturday's A-Day game. That could be a product of a much-improved defensive line, or it could be just a lack of development this spring.
"I thought they did a solid job at times," Malzahn said of the offensive line after the game. "I'll tell you what, our defensive line did a good job, too. There were a lot of times when they were playing in the backfield, and that's what coach (Rodney) Garner and coach (Ellis) Johnson have been stressing, and there was some good on both sides."
It's the same starting lineup as last fall for the offensive line, with the exception of Kozan moving over from RG to LG this spring.
This group will not lack experience. The question surrounding the offensive line is if it can return to the physical play that is required up front that it lacked in 2012.
First team: DE Dee Ford (6'2", 238 lbs., Senior), DT Jeffrey Whitaker (6'4", 307 lbs., Senior), DT Gabe Wright (6'3", 300 lbs., Junior), DE Kenneth Carter (6'4", 287 lbs., Senior)
Second team: DE Nosa Eguae (6'3", 268 lbs., Senior), DT Angelo Blackson (6'4", 312 lbs., Junior), DT Ben Bradley (6'1", 310 lbs., Sophomore), DE Craig Sanders (6'4", 242 lbs., Senior)
The defensive line was living in the offensive backfield on Saturday. It's a very positive sign, considering the struggles the group had in 2012.
Both Eguae and Ford recorded "sacks" during the scrimmage, which meant they were in a position to record a sack. The defensive line also had five tackles for loss on the day.
A surprise this spring has been the shift of Carter from defensive tackle to defensive end. He has performed well at his new position, working his way to starting A-Day on Saturday.
"I don’t know that he’s a natural end, but he’s played extremely well for his first time moving out there," Tigers defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said on April 16. "At this point in time, he’s holding down the No. 1 spot at the right end" (h/t Joel Erickson, al.com).
First team: Cassanova McKinzy (6'3", 245 lbs., Sophomore), Kris Frost (6'2", 231 lbs., Sophomore)
Second team: Jake Holland (6'1", 243 lbs., Senior), JaViere Mitchell (6'2", 211 lbs., RS Freshman)
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson trotted out McKinzy and Frost as the first two LBs on Saturday. McKinzy had some success last year against pro-style offenses, but he never fully grasped former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's defensive scheme.
His speed and ability to fill gaps with his big body set him apart from other linebackers.
Frost also struggled last year but is finally comfortable in Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme. He feels like he is on the cusp of a big season in 2013. "I'm really confident with my ability now, and my focus, and getting after things in the film room and the weight room," Frost said on March 27. "I definitely feel like it's my year." (h/t Joel Erickson, al.com)
Don't count out Holland, who brings the most experience in the LB corps. Due to a building science class, he had to miss a number of practices this spring and has tried not to fall behind.
First team: CB Chris Davis (5'11", 198 lbs., Senior), S Jermaine Whitehead (5'11", 198 lbs., Junior), S Demetruce McNeal (6'2", 194 lbs., Senior), CB Jonathan Mincy (5'10", 191 lbs., Junior), Star Justin Garrett (6'1", 214 lbs, Junior)
Second Team: CB Joshua Holsey (5'11", 195 lbs., Sophomore), S Trent Fisher (6'1", 200 lbs., Junior), S Ryan Smith (6'2", 197 lbs., Senior), CB Jonathan Jones (5'10", 172 lbs, Sophomore), Star Robenson Therezie (5'9", 202 lbs., Junior)
The secondary had some busts during the A-Day game on Saturday, but there were also very good plays on the ball in coverage.
The biggest news of the day was Mincy getting ejected for targeting. Watching it live, the targeting looked blatant. After watching a replay, it would have likely gotten overturned if it occurred during the regular season.
The other big performance came from Garrett, who is thriving as Johnson's "Star" in the 4-2-5 scheme.
The group has received rave reviews during spring, and it is expected to be a position of strength in 2013.
Kicker: Cody Parkey (6'0", 186 lbs., Senior)
Punter: Steven Clark (6'5", 232 lbs., Senior)
Auburn's specialists will remain the same next fall. Both Parkey and 2011 Ray Guy Award finalist Steven Clark return for the Tigers.
Parkey missed field-goal attempts of 36 and 39 yards during the A-Day game.