AUBURN, Ala. — It’s time once again for the SEC Country Auburn Mailbag, where beat reporter Justin Ferguson answers reader questions on all things Tigers athletics and, every now and then, all things tasty on the Plains.
Spring break is behind us, and Auburn football returned to the practice field this week to hit the major stretch of preseason camp. This week’s mailbag focuses on the continued absence of a star wide receiver, an overall view of a rising Auburn defense, some baseball talk and the construction of a culinary Mount Rushmore for the Loveliest Village. Let’s go.
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@CooperShoemaker: Is it time to panic about Kyle Davis?
Auburn sophomore wide receiver Kyle Davis hasn’t practiced this spring due to what Gus Malzahn has called “personal business.” The exact details of Davis’ situation aren’t clear, but it’s obvious Auburn wants to give him enough time to get things off the field completely sorted out. Malzahn said Tuesday the situation was “just taking a little bit longer than (Auburn) initially thought.”
If you believe Malzahn, though, Auburn fans shouldn’t panic. He said Tuesday that Davis “will be back for the fall,” but he just might not practice this spring for the Tigers. Fellow sophomore receiver Eli Stove sounded confident Tuesday evening that Davis would return for the 2017 season.
Davis has all the tools to become a standout receiver, especially with what Chip Lindsey wants to do with the passing offense in his first season. In my opinion, Auburn fans shouldn’t be concerned about his status on the team. What’s way more important is that Davis gets whatever his personal business is taken care of in the best possible way — regardless of timing.
Eric Matthews (Facebook): What’s the defense looking like?
Confidence is the main thing that jumps out about Auburn’s defense so far this spring. This unit returns seven regular starters and a lot of experienced depth from a strong 2016 campaign. The defensive coordinator is the same, as well as most of the position coaches. That familiarity is apparent in drills, and it’s opened the door for the Tigers to work more on individual progress this spring.
Auburn’s defensive line might have lost Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson, but this should be a position of strength again if the Tigers can find the right formula in the pass rush. Jeff Holland looks like a new man at Buck. Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown have the chance to take over as stars in 2017. Expect a breakout season for at least one of rising guys such as Nick Coe, Paul James III and Byron Cowart.
The Tigers should be the best they’ve been at linebacker in nearly a decade. All three starters are back, and Auburn is gaining confidence in Montavious Atkinson as a starter-quality option. There’s plenty of depth, too, especially with Chandler Wooten turning heads as an early enrollee.
The secondary could be an area of concern, depending on how Auburn addresses its needs at nickel and backup safety. Several players such as Jeremiah Dinson have starter quality and shaky injury histories. The Tigers currently have a walk-on at its fourth safety spot, which could spell major trouble if one of its three seniors goes down. There’s promise to exceed last year’s performance in pass defense, but there are several potential danger areas that need to be worked out this offseason.
Diana Butler (Facebook): How are the players reacting to the new coaches?
There’s been a lot of positive feedback from those inside the program about Auburn’s newest assistant coaches — offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, secondary coach Greg Brown and tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Larry Porter.
Lindsey has shaken things up at quarterback for Auburn, which was much needed. Malzahn has given him free reign to guide the quarterbacks in a new direction. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the few times I’ve been allowed to observe practice is how much Lindsey is hammering home the run-pass option concepts to the offense. If the Tigers can run them well, that could be a game-changer for 2017.
Auburn’s defensive backs love how laid-back and detail-oriented Brown is, because it reminds them a lot of former position coach Wesley McGriff. That makes for a much easier transition. As for Porter, the tight ends seem to respond well to his energetic style. Time will tell how much of an impact Porter can make at what is a brand-new position for him.
@Standrew5998: What kind of time and viewing ability does the media have at practice?
This is a good question. This spring, Auburn gave the media four viewing periods of its 14 regular practices — A-Day is No. 15. All four are on Tuesday, and three of them have already taken place. (The next one will be April 4, the last full week of drills.)
What the media get to see during those periods, which last 15 to 20 minutes, is a mixed bag. There’s always a stretching period, which eats up a decent portion of the viewing window. In the first two sessions this spring, we were able to see some 11-on-11 pace drills. That didn’t happen this week. Most of the time is spent watching warmup drills for each individual position.
Media aren’t allowed to see any of the Tigers’ scrimmages. So, in a little more than a month, we get to see around an hour of early practice time and the annual spring game like everybody else. Malzahn is famously protective of his practices and his systems, so the media don’t get to see much. Most of the time, it’s a race to find any notable absences and piece together some of the pecking order at certain positions.
@robbyhale21: I may be getting ahead of myself, but we just swept Florida. Chances we make CWS?
Auburn grabbed the college baseball world’s attention this past weekend by sweeping a Top 10 Florida team at home. It was an impressive feat for the Tigers, who are starting to come into their own under head coach Butch Thompson. They’ve now won eight straight games and sit No. 16 in the polls.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a baseball expert by any means. But I do know that the Tigers’ weekend pitching staff, led by Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize, is straight-up nasty with a combined ERA of 0.56 and a batting average of well under .200. Cole Lipscomb is a strong arm out of the pen, too. With that kind of pitching, Auburn has already proven it can hang with pretty much anybody.
Auburn’s bats are hot during this winning streak, and they’re putting up good numbers against quality competition. I think the College World Series is a major stretch for this team. But if Auburn can get back to the postseason and potentially host a Regional, it’s got a chance to play in the Super Regionals. These Tigers have aces on the mound and a knack for comeback wins. That’s a dangerous combination.
@_sam_butler: What is your Mount Rushmore of Auburn restaurants?
I’m never going to turn down a good food question, especially after last week’s unpopular opinion fun. Mount Rushmore has four presidents, so it’s time for me to pick my four Auburn restaurants. My criteria here is a mixture of quality and personal preference. It’s not necessarily the four best or the four most popular.
First, I’m going with The Hound. That’s the No. 1 overall seed. If anyone coming to Auburn wants a restaurant recommendation from me, The Hound will be the first thing out of my mouth. I’ve never had anything there that wasn’t phenomenal. The skirt steak with the mashed potatoes and tobacco onions is a personal favorite.
Next is Pannie George’s. This might be my favorite place to eat in Auburn. Their fried chicken is the among the best I’ve ever had. If you can find a day when it’s serving what I call the holy trinity — mac and cheese, fried okra and green beans — it’s a must-visit. (Tip: You can follow them on Instagram to see their daily menu. Game-changer.) Also, get the Kool Aid. Just trust me.
I’ll add Acre to the mountain here. I haven’t been to it nearly as much as the other three on this list because of the price range, but it’s the best all-around restaurant on the Plains. Brunch there is phenomenal — chicken and waffles, y’all — and the beef tenderloin at supper is well worth it. Although I’ve only been a small number of times, it’s an easy pick here.
Finally, let me round this out with Niffer’s. This is a sentimental pick, as this has been my family’s favorite Auburn restaurant throughout my entire lifetime. The burgers and sandwiches are always solid, and the corn nuggets are famous for a reason. It’s a good landmark place for this area.