Auburn Football: Top Performers from the Tigers' Spring Game
AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn Tigers elected to go with a starters vs. reserves game last Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which led to one of the most lopsided A-Day Games in school history.
The Blue Team starters, as expected, had no problem moving the ball and playing defense against their White Team backups. Auburn's starters put up 657 yards of total offense and led 44-3 at halftime, when most of the first team was pulled for the rest of the afternoon.
So what can you gather from a spring game that featured a 55-point margin of victory and a running clock for the entire second half?
While broad statements on the quality of the starters are probably not the wisest takeaways from A-Day, Auburn fans should focus on the individual playmakers from the high-scoring spring game.
Here are seven of Auburn's first-team players whose stock rose with their impressive performances in the defending SEC champions' spring practice finale.
QB Nick Marshall
After a spring filled with talk about more balance to Auburn's offense and the potential of the passing game, the spotlight was squarely on Nick Marshall at A-Day.
The senior quarterback, Gus Malzahn's first returning signal-caller in his collegiate coaching career, got off to a slow start but ended the day with an MVP award.
Marshall finished 13-of-22 passing for 236 yards and four touchdowns in two quarters of work against the Tigers' second-string defense Saturday afternoon. Some of his flaws from last season crept up, especially in the early part of the game, but he recovered enough to throw a few highlight-reel deep balls to his steadily improving receiving corps.
"I am a way better passer than last year," Marshall said. "I took note of all the little things and what the coaches told me to put it towards my progress. I just focus on putting the ball in a place where my receivers can catch it."
Although Marshall's old habit of throwing behind his receivers showed in Auburn's pass-heavy opening drive, he gradually got better with his touch passes throughout the first half. With some new options in the passing game and a better grasp of passing mechanics, Marshall is poised to have a fantastic season after an award-winning spring game.
RB Corey Grant
While there seemed to be no real separation in the running back race after A-Day, senior speedster Corey Grant finished with a better statistical performance than Cameron Artis-Payne in his first spring game on the Plains.
Grant led all rushers with 128 yards on only five carries. "Tail Lights" showed his gamebreaking speed on a 54-yard touchdown run off a simple shotgun pitch from Marshall.
The passing game was the first-team offense's focus throughout the lopsided game, and Grant said he knew he had to make the most of the few opportunities he received in front of the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd.
"That’s one thing me and [Artis-Payne] talked about before the game," Grant said. We knew we were going to come in passing the ball, but when we did get a chance to run the ball, we wanted to take advantage of that and get those yards and show that we still have a strong running game."
While Grant's speed was the biggest takeaway from his runs Saturday, he also proved he could lower his shoulder and break tackles near the end zone. Auburn might return to a running back by committee system this fall, but the coaching staff should feel confident in Grant's abilities as a more all-around runner after this spring.
WR D'haquille Williams
D'haquille Williams wasted no time in making noise at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Late in the first quarter, Marshall dropped back on 3rd-and-goal from the three-yard line and lofted a pass to Williams, who was running a fade route in the corner of the end zone. When the athletic receiver came down with the touchdown grab, Auburn fans immediately celebrated with a long "Duuuuuuuke" chant, referencing the newcomer's nickname.
"Duke" Williams finished the day with 88 yards on five receptions, leading all Tigers in both categories. He emerged as a new dangerous threat for Marshall, who relied on Sammie Coates for most of his passes down the stretch of Auburn's run-heavy 2013 season.
"Duke's just a playmaker," Coates said. "He just goes out there and plays ball, and that's what he did today. He went out there and showed everybody that he belongs in this league."
Williams showcased the new mentality receivers coach Dameyune Craig has been preaching throughout the summer—attack the ball, don't wait for it to come to you. Auburn's newest big-play receiver showed just that in his Jordan-Hare Stadium debut on both his touchdown grab and a few off-target passes from Marshall down the middle of the field.
WR Quan Bray
In the receiving corps, all eyes were on offensive leader Sammie Coates and newcomer D'haquille Williams at A-Day.
However, senior wideout Quan Bray made a statement of his own as the Tigers made an emphasis on throwing the ball all over Pat Dye Field.
A wide-open Bray hauled in a deep ball from Marshall midway through the first quarter and finished the 59-yard play by running untouched into the end zone. The former 4-star wide receiver caught another touchdown pass from Marshall right before halftime, giving him one fewer score in A-Day than he had all of the 2013 season.
Bray has not had a lot of success as a wide receiver during his first three seasons on the Plains, but with Auburn developing several go-to targets for Marshall, the senior said he is ready to be a major part of Malzahn's 2014 offense.
"It's going to be crazy," Bray said. "With Coach Malzahn — they call him 'The Mad Scientist' — I really can see that he's a smart man. He's going to take advantage of any holes in the defense."
DE Elijah Daniel
Elijah Daniel missed a few practices this spring with a groin injury, but the sophomore defensive lineman looked like he was at full strength Saturday.
With LaDarius Owens and Carl Lawson out of the A-Day Game with injuries, Daniel saw some extended time with the first-team defense. He recorded three tackles at defensive end, with 2.5 of them for a loss.
Daniel broke through Auburn's reserve offensive line midway through the third quarter and "sacked" former starter Jonathan Wallace—the quarterbacks did not go live, so Daniel's stop in the backfield was more of a backyard football-style two-hand touch.
The former blue-chip recruit did, however, showcase his tackling ability against Auburn's backup running backs throughout the game.
As several players fight for more playing time in Auburn's heavily rotating defensive line next season, Daniel took advantage of his extra work Saturday and could be in line for a bigger role in 2014.
CB Trovon Reed
Trovon Reed's transition from underwhelming wide receiver to potential playmaker at cornerback has been an interesting storyline to follow this spring.
In Saturday's preseason finale, Reed looked like he had played corner longer than only a few weeks.
Reed recorded a pair of quick pass-deflections in the first quarter of the A-Day Game and showed he could be an aggressive defender in Ellis Johnson's secondary this season. He also provided help in run support, taking down backup running back Patrick Lymon deep in the backfield during the second quarter.
"There was no pressure on him," fellow cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. "He was very comfortable with everything. That goes back to believing in the fundamentals and the coaching. He's buying in."
Reed lined up with the first-team defense in Saturday's game, and he will look to be a factor in that same group later this fall. If he continues to get comfortable in the secondary, his athleticism could be a weapon for the Tigers this season.
S Derrick Moncrief
D'haquille Williams was not the only former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product turning heads at A-Day.
Safety Derrick Moncrief, who was also one of the nation's most sought-after junior college recruits, made a few big plays during his time with the first-team defense.
His biggest highlight came in the first quarter, when he came close to intercepting Jeremy Johnson with a lunging effort. Moncrief also recovered the fumble from redshirt freshman running back Peyton Barber, who left the game early with a leg injury.
"I feel like he came along pretty well this spring," Star Robenson Therezie said. "I think [Moncrief and Trovon Reed] could be starters. Moncrief can play a lot of positions, not just free and boundary safety."
With Auburn's secondary searching for new players to step up after the departures of several key veterans, look for Moncrief to play early and often after his strong spring and A-Day performances.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.