On a cool, dark, dreary day on the Auburn campus D'haquille Williams and Montravius Adams were rays of sunshine with their performances at the scrimmage that was moved to the indoor facility because of wet ground at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
In his first college scrimmage as a defensive end Adams showed surprising quickness playing in space at 6-4, 306 pounds.
With the Tigers short on numbers at that position this spring having to replace four seniors and missing returning starter LaDarius Owens (broken bone in his foot) defensive line coach Rodney Garner is giving Adams practice time at end.
Another defensive end, sophomore Elijah Daniel, has been sidelined by a groin pull suffered the first week of practice. AU's coaches hope to have him back on the field for week three of spring drills that resume on Tuesday.
Another tackle, returning starter Gabe Wright, is also seeing practice time at end, but Adams was the defensive lineman who stood out at Saturday's scrimmage.
As a true freshman last fall Adams opened his career with a sack on opening night and saw plenty of playing time as a reserve. He was on the field in critical situations in Auburn's big games late in season, including the SEC and BCS championship showdowns.
Commenting on the experiment with Adams and Wright at end, head coach Gus Malzahn said, "Both those guys are big, athletic guys, and I think moving forward next year you play certain teams and all that, and you need bigger guys. I think it does nothing but help us moving forward with Coach Garner and with the way he can put guys on the field."
The No. 1 who stood out on offense was receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams, a transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
During a scrimmage that lasted approximately 100 plays with around 40 percent of those passes, Williams and fellow junior Sammie Coates were the standouts in the receiver group while Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis also made good plays.
Showing the ability to get deep and be physical making catches in traffic this spring, Williams may end up being the receiver with the best hands on the 2014 roster.
Auburn's coaches have praised Williams and his juco teammate, safety Derrick Moncrief, for how well they have been practicing this spring. That continued on Saturday when he head coach said, "Those guys have really responded well. They have picked up stuff quickly. We hit the ground running. What do we have, six practices under our belt? Both guys like the scheme, they are picking it up pretty good. They are both confident players."
Coates was the leading receiver on last year's squad. Based on the first two weeks of practices this spring Williams looks like he will be able to develop into a "go-to" guy for quarterback Nick Marshall, who won praise for his play on Saturday from the head coach as did backup Jeremy Johnson.
"He looks more comfortable with every practice," Malzahn said of his returning starter at quarterback. "Obviously, we're not going live (quarterbacks are off limits to contact), but his pocket presence each time out there improves. I thought he threw the ball well."
Nick Marshall is shown at Saturday's scrimmage.
Commenting on No. 2 QB Jeremy Johnson, Malzahn said, "He's got really good command of the offense. He can really do the checks and everything we are asking him to do. Jeremy has had a great attitude. He is approaching every practice trying to get better. Coach (Rhett) Lashlee has been pleased with him."
The coaching staff was concerned about the wide receivers last spring, but the group is more impressive this year. "I think the biggest thing is the depth," Malzahn said. "That is the biggest difference. We have got two to sometimes three at each position that at least has a good idea of what is going on. We're trying to give those guys all a chance to show what they can do. That's a good thing moving forward."
Ricardo Louis runs the football in Saturday's scrimmage.
Saturday's practice wrapped up week two of spring drills for the Tigers, who have nine of their 15 practice dates still available. Auburn's annual A-Day scrimmage is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 19th.
Malzahn noted that the scrimmage video will be valuable for the staff. "We let everyone play," he said. "It was fairly equal reps. It was good for us as coaches. Now we will be able to go into the film room for the first time with a true scrimmage and evaluate our guys.
"We will narrow it down as we go, but I thought our energy level was good," Malzahn said. "I thought it was a very physical scrimmage, which was very encouraging. We had a few pre-snap penalties, motion penalties and offsides penalties that we've got to correct, but when you rotate everybody on your team in three groups stuff like that is to be expected. Overall it was really good information for our coaches to see how we did."
In other news and notes:
*Corey Grant is in the competition to win the vacant No. 1 running back spot held by Tre Mason last season, who was the 2013 SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Grant is known for his sprinter's speed and this spring is trying to prove he can be a guy who can carry the football 20 plus times a game.
"That's one thing I do want to do, establish myself, because you know it's a question if I can run between the tackles," the senior said. "I want to get that established throughout spring and going into the fall, letting everybody know I can do that."
Grant said fans can expect to see plenty of the zone read play the Tigers executed so well last year with Nick Marshall meshing with Mason. "I think it should be the same," the running back said. "Nick is actually gotten a lot better than he was at this point last year. That's natural, but he's a lot better because he's not learning now. He is just making reads and I think it is going to be even better than last year."
Commenting on Grant, Malzahn said, "He's very physical. He's one of our stronger guys in the weight room and he's a veteran guy, too. He will definitely be in the mix."
*Another senior running back, Cameron Artis-Payne, agrees with Grant's assessment of Marshall's play this spring. Artis-Payne said sees the quarterback " \being comfortable, knowing his reads right away, going through the progressions quicker in the offense."
Artis-Payne said that Marshall is connecting on a higher percentage of his long passes this spring. "It's an overall progression and I think he will have a big year as far as throwing the ball," the running back predicted.
*Redshirt freshman Peyton Barber has looked good running the football in the previous full pads workouts this spring and the trend continued on Saturday. He had several chain-moving runs in the scrimmage.
*Defensive tackle Tyler Nero, who was taken to the hospital during Thursday's practice to check for concussion-like symptoms, did not practice on Saturday. "I am not going to get into specifics, but he was back out there today and that's a good thing," Malzahn said. "We'll see, moving forward I'll keep y'all updated when he gets back on the field."