Auburn started the spring undermanned and inexperienced. The amount of players on roster is not something that will change drastically, but getting these guys some sort of game-like experience was a goal that was achieved. Nothing can be a viable substitute to a Saturday in the fall, but A-Day is as close as these coaches and fans could make it.
Looking at position development some questions were answered, but others will linger into the fall. The defense won the day and looked every bit as talented as a year ago. Numerous holes in the offense could have aided in the defensive execution however.
Moving forward, Auburn has a long road ahead to develop this team into an SEC contender. The National Champions have a wealth of talent just a lack of experience. With the spring practice period over, Auburn can look to the A-Day game as a step in the right direction as the focus tightens in the next four months to the pending 2011 season.
The most high profile position battle for the Tigers is no doubt the quarterback position. With Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley battling for the starting spot the hope is that one can separate themselves from the pack.
Coming into A-Day, there was no apparent separation between the two in the first 14 practices. Knowing that A-Day is just one more practice for the coaches to evaluate, Trotter looked to be the quarterback leading the race.
On the opening drive, two of Trotter’s passes were dropped, but all the throws were in the wheelhouse of the receivers. Trotter continued to be consistent and make good decisions in the game despite great defensive back play by the Tigers.
Moseley looked the part of the quarterback with his size and seeming ability to escape the pocket, but he seemed to delay on some of his timed throws. Moseley most likely has the stronger arm of the two, but quick decisions are more important than the long ball competition for Malzahn’s offense.
If the season started today, Trotter would be my pick for the starting nod simply because of his ability to anticipate and guide the offense on Saturday. The competition is far from over however, and with the arrival of Kiehl Frazier expected sometime in the summer, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of time before this race adds another challenger.
Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb made a very limited appearance in the game, but the carries they did earn were worth the price of admission. The starting two are extremely talented and will carry a heavy load for the offense this fall.
The one scholarship backup and a host of walk-ons received the majority of the carries on Saturday. Anthony Morgan made the transition from defensive back to running back early in spring and has shown that his ability to run has been overlooked with a loaded backfield.
Despite a knee injury earlier in the spring practice sessions, Morgan showed a deceptive speed around the end and the ability to navigate through traffic in the middle. Morgan will be a player that the Tigers will be able to rely on to take some of the load from the starting two backs.
Of the walk-ons that played, senior Davis Hooper had an impressive showing. Hooper has been a practice back his entire career, but with his ability to drive the pile and the apparent lack of depth at the position, Hooper may find his way to the field in the fall.
A surprise for most fans was most likely the play of Ladarious Phillips. A 290 pound back, Philips showed off his skill set by catching a few passes and getting some carries. He showed amazing quickness and deceptive speed for his size. Expect him to be a short yardage earner and a terror if he catches passes in the flats and cuts it up field this fall.
The receiver position lost two of the most prominent Tigers in recent memory. Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachary made play after play for the Tigers in ’09 and ’10, so filling their roles will be extremely important for Auburn especially as they break in a new quarterback.
The good news for the Tigers is that receiver has been a position of tremendous talent in the last few recruiting classes. Emory Blake stepped into the role of a third receiver a year ago and made some huge impact plays for the Tigers. He will be a leader for the Tigers this coming year, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of throws that went his way Saturday.
There was a multitude of Tigers that did receive throws on Saturday. Two primary targets were DeAngelo Benton and Quindarius Carr. Both had opportunities to make plays and both did, but they also made their fair share of gaffes. One pass early in the first quarter went right through the hands of Benton while he made another catch on the same call later in the game. Quindarious Carr had the same issues with getting the ball to stick in his hands.
Some dump passes to Trovon Reed looked promising as he showed his abilities in space, but the perimeter blocking seemed to have some issues on the edge of those screens. The blocking may have been off, however, due to the fact that some key players were sidelined most of the game.
Auburn Offensive Line
The offensive line has a mixed grade coming out of the A-Day game. The first team line held its own for the majority of the game and opened some nice holes for the backs. The biggest concern was the lack of consistent play.
Building the continuity will come with the summer and the workouts that ensue so that shouldn’t be a huge concern. Reese Dismukes played at a level that was expected and found people to block, although on occasion he was caught with his head swiveling and not much else moving.
Looking at the second team line is where the concern sets in for any fan viewing the game. The second team is full of talent, but the defense owned the offense at times. The second team line doesn’t appear to have a great grip on the blocking schemes or reaction times in the game type situations.
For Auburn to be successful in 2011, they have to build depth and experience at the line position. Unfortunately, the experience gained will be trial by fire, and it is sure to cost some down and distance in the future.
The defensive line came to play on Saturday. Early in the game, the defense looked to be on their heels, but they settled as the game drew on. The names of Nosa Eguae and Corey Lemonier were called often, and that was to be expected.
Dee Ford was another player who flew to the ball and made an impact on the game. Ford came to Auburn a little underweight for a defensive end but earned playing time early and will likely see the field often in 2011.
The middle of the defensive line is one of the biggest questions that the Tigers have for the 2011 season. Losing big time players like Nick Fairley and Mike Blanc hurts, but there is talent on the team. I was looking for the middle of the field to be opened up wide during the game but the line seemed to do its job for the majority of the day. I am not sure if that is the talent level or simply the lack of experience on the offensive line.
The most interesting way that the defensive line played was mixing who was playing on the inside of the line. On passing downs, the Tigers would shift traditional defensive ends inside and stack the outside with additional rush ends. Using this technique should help Auburn keep guys fresh and also bring a ton of heat this fall.
The linebacker position is likely one of the most experienced for the Tigers this coming season. Daren Bates and Jake Holland played extremely well in the game and looked every bit the part of starters. The biggest question seems to be who feels out the third linebacker spot.
The talent is there for the Tigers, but the reaction time can look stiff, as the younger players are thinking instead of reacting. Harris Gaston and Eltoro Freeman are guys that could likely make impacts and did on Saturday.
Despite Freeman getting the majority of work in at the middle position behind Jake Holland, by September, it would not surprise me to see Freeman starting on the outside opposite Bates. Freeman simply has to slow down and play smart.
LaDarius Owens is a young backer that seemed to find himself in position a lot on Saturday. He showed his speed and play recognition on A-Day and will likely make an impact on special teams and in a reserve role in the coming season.
The defensive backs played lights out on Saturday. There was speculation that it would be a talented group, but the playing time that most of the sophomores gained last season shined bright. Guys like Chris Davis and Demetruce McNeal looked the part and made plays all over the field.
T’Sharvan Bell played a great game on the edge as well and even made it to the backfield on one of his signature corner back blitz calls. Johnathan Rose also received his fair share of plays and played with skill but made some obvious mistakes.
At one point, an interception went right through Rose’s hands and into those of the receiver. That is most likely a mistake that won’t repeat itself, but that was one of the most obvious mistakes the defensive backs made all day.
There was one huge surprise as I watched the game, and it was Johnathon Mincy. Mincy was a player that received rave reviews a year ago and was expected to earn playing time even before the backfield was depleted by injury. Mincy earned time in the Chizik doghouse and was not heard from on 2010. He will make an impact often this coming season.
Overall, the Tigers defensive backs may have been the most aggressive and complete position group of the game.
A timeless moment in Auburn fans' memories will forever be the winning kick in the 2011 BCS National Championship game. Wes Byrum made the winning kick that sealed the game for the Tigers. Replacing a game winner and clutch four year starter will be no small task.
Cody Parkay is the heir apparent to the job, as he was the highest rated kicker a season ago out of high school. He sat out the A-Day game however and Chandler Brooks, a walk-on, had a nice showing on the windy day. Brooks hit field goals of 43,41 and 49 with misses from 44 and 47. Brooks may be able to play his way in to the playing rotation if he continues to progress.
The punting a season ago was absolutely abysmal. The coverage team was excellent, but the punting was leaving a bit to be desired. Stephen Clark looked the part of a veteran in the A-Day game, however, and averaged 47.2 yards on eight kicks. Most of the punts not only out kicked the coverage but also outkicked the return man with his leg.
The return game was not live for the game, but it appears that the return men have been selected. Trovon Reed was the punt return man, and the kickoff return duties were handled by Neiko Thorpe and Onterio McCalebb. That lineup is likely to be mimicked this coming fall.