AUBURN, Ala. — Welcome back to the Auburn Mailbag here at SEC Country, where Tigers beat reporter Justin Ferguson answers all things Auburn football and athletics at large.
This should be the final edition of the Auburn Mailbag for a while, now that Auburn football has wrapped up spring practices. This week’s mailbag highlights a couple of stars of the Tigers’ camp, projects the future of the defense and diagnoses a return to the Plains for one staff member. Plus, there’s an extra barbecue question at the end.
Let’s dig into this spring football wrap-up mailbag, shall we?
FERG’S FILM ROOM: Breaking down debuts of Chip Lindsey, Jarrett Stidham
@CooperShoemaker: Is there any possibility Auburn doesn’t redshirt Malik Willis?
Don’t rule out anything completely, especially this early in the year. But I would be surprised if Willis doesn’t take a redshirt year in 2017. The true freshman had a fantastic spring, and he could be the second-best quarterback on campus right now behind Jarrett Stidham.
But Sean White has two seasons of experience as a starting quarterback for the Tigers. When healthy, Auburn can move the ball effectively on offense, even though the deep ball game isn’t quite what it needs to be. However, he’s a more trustworthy option in SEC play than Willis because of that experience.
Keep in mind Stidham is just a sophomore — just one class ahead of Willis in terms of eligibility. If Willis is truly the future at quarterback, there’s no need to burn a possible year just for mop-up duty, especially with a former starter still on the roster.
@Joe706: What’s the impact of Borges’ hiring? How is it going to help Auburn?
Al Borges’ return to Auburn as an offensive analyst is quite an impressive pull by Gus Malzahn and Chip Lindsey. Offensive analysts can’t coach players or recruit. What they bring to a program, instead, is a lot of vital off-the-field work such as scouting, game planning and film breakdown.
Borges has spent the last 30 years in college football, including four at Auburn in which the Tigers went 41-9. He developed a reputation for being a quarterback guru and an innovative offensive coordinator.
As an analyst, Borges brings decades of experience that will feed into the brain trust of the Auburn offense. He’ll bring his expertise as someone who has used traditional drop back passes with his quarterbacks and has adapted to some of the aspects of up-tempo spread offenses. For a support staff spot, it’s hard to find a better hire than one of the most veteran offensive names in the game.
@elcarg: Who are the high motor guys who are going to deliver sacks and TFLs in 2017?
For starters, it’s hard not to see “high motor” for the Auburn defense and not immediately think of sophomore defensive end Marlon Davidson. The returning starter had a knack for making big plays several yards past the line of scrimmage, even though he would be engaged with an offensive tackle just seconds earlier.
Without Carl Lawson, Davidson will be relied on to be a top-tier pass rusher in 2017. The improvement from the first year to the second year is usually the biggest for a player, and Davidson already has the advantage of previous starting experience. The same goes for defensive tackle Derrick Brown, a former 5-star recruit who didn’t start but was featured in the rotation last fall.
Jeff Holland came a half-second close to making big plays in the backfield on plenty of occasions last season. His first love in football is rushing the passer, so he should be a top lineman this fall. The Tigers will need a lot of players to step up in order to replace Lawson and Montravius Adams, but those are the three who stand out the most.
Colby Morris (Facebook): Do you think Will Hastings will continue to be one of the go-to guys this season?
Will Hastings is a curious case for Auburn football. He had 8 catches in the first three games of the 2016 season, and then he had 3 more for the remaining 10 games. Hastings moved back in the rotation as the younger Auburn receivers progressed into more reliable options.
However, Hastings jumped back into the picture this spring. He received first-team slot receiver reps from the first practice. In the first scrimmage, Hastings was the most talked-about receiver. Then, in the A-Day game, he led the team in catches.
It’s clear Hastings has developed a good chemistry with Stidham. His ability to create space on hitches, slants and quick screens will serve him well in Chip Lindsey’s offense. Hastings won’t generate a ton of yardage, but he fits a clear role in the slot next to the more all-around options such as Nate Craig-Myers, Darius Slayton, Eli Stove and Kyle Davis.
@Standrew5998: Do you think the defense falls off in 2017? Run D looked great but the secondary seems to be a big question mark. Line looked okay mostly.
It’s a mixed bag, in my opinion. Auburn’s run defense should be fierce in 2017. All the key linebackers are back — plus the additions of possible rotation options such as Montavious Atkinson, Chandler Wooten and T.D. Moultry — and there’s a lot of depth up front. That should be a strength of the team.
The secondary has good first-string talent in Carlton Davis, Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts. Javaris Davis has the physical gifts to be a top-notch corner, and Jeremiah Dinson continues to impress in his return from injury. However, there’s not a lot of established depth here. Nick Ruffin is the only scholarship safety behind Matthews and Roberts, and several cornerbacks have shaky injury histories.
Auburn’s secondary did so well last season largely because of the effectiveness of the pass rush. Teams didn’t have all day to go after the secondary through the air. Auburn has to replace its best pass rushers, but there are plenty of options. If the Tigers can rush the passer effectively and the secondary avoids a couple of major injuries, this unit should be as good as it was in 2016. But a lot hinges on health.
@DrunkAubie: Why haven’t I seen any playing time?
You clearly weren’t a guy that was really flying around out there at practice, Drunk Aubie.
@jthuber96: Is a hot dog a sandwich? Also, what kind of barbecue is the best in your mind?
Some readers might remember that I answered the first question in a mailbag last fall. So go check that out for the answer.
As for the second question, I try not to discriminate. I enjoy all types of barbecue. While pork is my go-to, I will say that the best meal of my life was beef burnt ends at Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Missouri.
If you’re ever near Kansas City — like I was before the Auburn-Kansas State game in 2014 — go there. That’s the best single type in my mind.