AUBURN, Ala. — What Auburn football put out offensively at its annual A-Day spring game wasn’t close to a full representation of what it could be in 2018.
Health issues were the leading storyline of spring camp for Auburn’s offense. Starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham and record-breaking receiver Ryan Davis were both limited due to offseason shoulder surgeries. Receivers Eli Stove and Will Hastings tore ACLs. Two centers went down in camp. Running back Kam Martin and wide receiver Shedrick Jackson sat out the spring game with their own nagging injuries.
All of that added together could make it feel like a wasted spring for Auburn’s offense. Stidham saw it differently.
“You know, I don’t think it puts us too far behind,” Stidham said. “[Sophomore quarterback Malik Willis] did a great job this spring. Obviously, we’re going to have to work on our chemistry when fall camp comes, because I’ll be back out there. Everything really flowed well throughout the spring.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn agrees with Stidham. Malzahn’s biggest concern coming out of camp was the health of Stove and Hastings, who might not be able to play at all in 2018.
But he looked at Stidham’s situation, along with setbacks elsewhere, as one with a silver lining.
“Obviously the two receivers we had with ACLs, that was a very tough deal,” Malzahn said. “Everything else, you know, from a Jarrett Stidham standpoint, you’d like to have him out there but the positive is those two other guys got quality experience. That’ll help us in the fall.”
On paper, Auburn has a lot of potential on the offensive side of the football in 2018. Stidham was the second 3,000-yard passer in school history last season, his first with the team. He’s back for his second season, along with offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey — who seemed to hit a stride with his play-calling in the second half of a regular season that led to an SEC West title.
Auburn lost defending SEC Offensive Player of the Year winner Kerryon Johnson to the NFL, but coaches are encouraged by the depth in the possible replacements at running back. Three offensive linemen have starting experience, and every scholarship receiver who finished 2017 is back.
“You know, we came a long way,” Stidham said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who really have to step up, especially on the offensive line and the running backs. A lot of guys left. It’s been really good to see those guys improve from week to week. Then again, we have a long way to go, because we’re shooting for bigger and better things in 2018. We’re going to have to get to work.”
Stidham is expected to be fully healthy by August. He’ll participate in summer workouts with Martin and Davis, and his top two centers — Kaleb Kim and Nick Brahms — are expected to be cleared.
Malzahn’s first returning starter at quarterback since 2014 will continue the offseason with a new vantage point on the offense. During his recovery from shoulder surgery, Stidham spent most of spring practice standing beside the coach, watching Willis and freshman Joey Gatewood lead the way at quarterback.
“Obviously, I love playing,” Stidham said. “But it’s nice to kind of sit back and see everything from Coach Malzahn’s perspective. I would always be back behind everything with him during practice, so I’m kind of able to see what exactly he’s seeing. We talk about things. It was kind of good to get that coach’s perspective.”
In a few weeks, Stidham will hit his first summer as Auburn’s No. 1 quarterback ready to prove that the last few months haven’t put the Tigers behind schedule at all.
“When the summer gets here, it’s all business,” Stidham said. “In the summer, that’s kind of where everything is molded for that season. I’m excited for it.”