AUBURN, Ala. — After 11 days away from the field, Auburn football returns to spring practice Tuesday afternoon. And, judging by the schedule the rest of the way, the intensity will ramp up over the next 10 practices.
Auburn football will take the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time since last fall. Several important players should return from spring break healthier, and competitions at key positions will become clearer over the next few weeks.
Here’s what Auburn fans should expect when the Tigers make their return from spring break this week and begin their push toward the annual A-Day Game on April 8.
Time for Saturday scrimmages
In the words of Gus Malzahn, it’s time for Auburn to “put the ball down” and start its stretch of Saturday scrimmages, which culminates with A-Day. After getting players back into their groove with the first five practices, the post-spring break edition of camp will focus more on what will happen at Jordan-Hare Stadium these next three weekends.
Scrimmage performances — when Auburn often likes to go first-team offense versus first-team defense — will carry more weight for players as the Tigers begin to sort out their depth chart for 2017. This is especially important for the quarterbacks, with Jarrett Stidham, Woody Barrett and Malik Willis getting some of their first opportunities to fully run the offense in a live setting.
These scrimmages, including A-Day, are important for evaluation and separation in the preseason. Players who shine here could be on the fast track for more playing time in the fall.
Narrowing down things at quarterback
Malzahn said before Auburn even started spring practice that the Tigers couldn’t go through camp with five quarterbacks. Now that Sean White has returned in a limited capacity, Auburn has six scholarship quarterbacks going through drills — Stidham, Barrett, Willis, White, John Franklin III and Tyler Queen.
Malzahn said first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey would narrow things down at quarterback in time. Lindsey has already said Stidham, Barrett and Willis are getting the majority of first-team reps, so the rest of spring camp could be the last Auburn sees of Franklin at quarterback. If the Tigers are serious about making Franklin a contributor at receiver, he should make the full-time switch soon.
White won’t go live this spring as he continues to recover from injury, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if none of the quarterbacks takes hits over the next 10 practices. But a smaller race at quarterback should be the expectation down the stretch of spring ball.
Back to the Buck race
Auburn’s most intriguing position battle on defense should gain clarity after spring break. Junior Jeff Holland is the projected leader, and the Tigers are impressed with how well former linebacker Tre Threat has taken to his new position.
Redshirt freshman Nick Coe was limited in early practices with a leg injury, and the time off could be a boost to his candidacy as a top pass rusher. Junior Paul James III has split time with Coe on the second team during practices. Both could be depth pieces behind starting defensive end Marlon Davidson, too.
The three scrimmages will be crucial for the Buck race as well. Can Holland cement himself as the No. 1 pass rusher for the 2017 season, or will one of the younger players make a move?