Jason's Friday Mailbag: Bye Week Questions

Jason Caldwell answers questions about the 2014 Auburn football Tigers as they prepare for the second half of the regular season.

Freshman running back Roc Thomas (above) saw his most extensive action last week.

aunatchamps: Are we playing Auburn Fast or has there been a delay for some reason?

Auburn definitely hasn’t played as fast as Gus Malzahn wants and the main reason is because the Tigers are not getting enough first downs. Throwing the football more means more checks at the line of scrimmage. When the Tigers go fast it’s a downhill running game that wears down the opponent. That is not something Auburn is excelling at right now.

auhambone: What are the chances we will see Roc Thomas get significant carries against USC?

I believe there’s a good chance the freshman will get plenty of touches when the Tigers take on South Carolina next weekend. We saw a glimpse of his abilities in the loss to Mississippi State and if Auburn had not been fighting from behind the entire game I think he would have run the ball even more last week. Thomas is going to be a significant part of the offense the rest of the season in my opinion.

AUTigermeat: What's the starting 5 on the OL next Saturday if you had to guess?

That’s a tough one because there are so many opportunities. I think right now I’ll stick with the original line that started the season, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Braden Smith in at left guard in place of Chad Slade. I definitely think it’s something they could at least take a look a during the game even if he doesn’t start.

SalemTiger: JJ is expected to be the starter next year, do you expect him to get some minutes in the remainder of our games this year ?

I think we will continue to see Jeremy Johnson play a role in just about every game this season, but much of that depends on the circumstances of the game, defensive plans against the Tigers, etc. The good news is that he is already more experienced than most first-time starters when they take over.

alcar7: What do you think is the biggest key in the second half of the season for the offense to be successful enough to win out. And same for defense?

Offensively, it is making the running attack more consistent. Auburn is going to be able to throw the ball and make plays in the passing game, but for the tempo to ever get there it starts on the ground. Defensively, there is no question it’s finding a consistent pass rush from the front four. You have got to be able to pressure without blitzing when you face Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Alabama.

givhandy: Which guard gets bumped by Drago? With Roc playing more, how does that effect our game plan, if any?

As I mentioned previously I think Slade could be the odd man out if Braden Smith gets the call. That is still a long way from happening, but it’s not out of the question. As for Roc’s addition to the offense, I don’t think it impacts Auburn’s plans at all unless he can really take the running game to the next level. If he impacts things like Carnell Williams did as a freshman it could mean more of the style of play Auburn used last season.

howells: Can Roc catch? I'd like to see more of the two back to take advantage of them coming out if the backfield to keep the olb's honest. We have seen it a tiny bit.

Roc has really good hands. He caught punts and returned kickoffs throughout high school so he is used to catching the ball. He should be a good weapon in that department down the road. As for putting him and CAP on the field at the same time it’s probably something they could add in without much of a problem.

gmason73: Do you feel that we got away from the Gus Malzahn offense against MSU? We tried to be too cute at times with trick plays inside the red zone, seemed to want to pass more than run and didn't go as fast as usual. I know there are times when the defense dictates what you do, but it seemed like we didn't try to enforce our will on the Bulldogs.

I don’t think Auburn got away from this year’s offense too much against Mississippi State. When you’re not running the ball well on first down you have got to throw it more. That takes more time because of the checks at the line of scrimmage. As for enforcing their will, Auburn tried that a few times and it didn’t work. The Tiges have got to have better execution with a short field, something that wasn’t the case last week.

Thrill22: Peyton Barber, who has shown glimpses of being a really good running back in limited action, hasn't seen a meaningful snap this year. For someone who has seen practices, what are his weaknesses that are keeping him off the field?

Barber has all the tools to be a really good player, but he’s more similar to what Artis-Payne brings to the table right now. While he’s not putting up huge numbers, Artis-Payne has been pretty good so far this year. Roc Thomas is probably a better addition to the running game right now because of his skill set, but I think if called upon Barber would get the job done. It is hard to get touches for three backs, much less four.

tcb4au: why has Corey Grant been a non-factor so far?

Without getting much of a consistent push in the middle from Auburn’s running game teams have been able to secure the edge of the defense more to start the season in 2014. One thing they are doing is flying safeties and even corners off the edge when Grant goes in motion, effectively trying to take him out of the equation. If Thomas can bring more explosion between the tackles it will force the safeties and linebackers to stay at home more, opening up the edge for Grant to do his thing.

WSPTIGER: Can and will our coaches ask that Tom Ritter's crew not officiate any more Auburn games?

That crew has been a thorn in the side of Auburn since Tommy Tuberville was on the Plains. Auburn's coaches can definitely make their feelings known about certain officials and crews, but I don’t think they can strike anyone.

colliem: Rudy Ford has shown a great ability to find the ball and hit hard. Not only does he hit hard, he has shown the great ability to tackle securely. Do you see him having a future in the NFL? Will we see his name on a national level any time soon?

I believe Rudy Ford has a future in the NFL based on what I have seen from him in his short time at safety. He really has a nose for finding the football and has the speed to be a great player down the road once he learns how to really play the spot.

RizzleAU03: At the halfway point of the season, Marshall has a worse completion percentage than last year at this time. We all read about him improving in this area most of the offseason. Is he on a leash, and what is that leash's length?

Marshall’s leash is as long as you can possibly have. With as many deep balls as he throws I never thought he was going to be a 65 percent completion guy anyway, but while he’s made some off-target throws he’s also made some good throws that weren’t caught as well. He is the leader of the offense and has made much better decisions this year than last along with finding secondary receivers and check-down routes. Number 14 is not going anywhere.

carnellisanescalade: If you were to put a percentage on it, what would you say the percentage of the following OL against USC is: Coleman, Smith, Reese, Young, Miller?

Tough to do percentages on this one. I would still put it at less than 50 percent to start, but I think it’s a much higher percentage that we will see it at least sometime during the next few games.

AugTiger: With Auburn having an off week, what other game or games are you looking forward to watching?

There are a couple of games I want to see. The first is Kansas State at Oklahoma. The Wildcats are a very good team at home, but don’t play as well on the road. I’m anxious to see if that holds true this weekend because with a veteran quarterback Bill Snyder’s teams are usually pretty salty. K-State won at Oklahoma two seasons ago.

Georgia at Arkansas is another. The Bulldogs played great last weekend on the road at Missouri. Another long road trip against a better team is going to be tougher, with or without Todd Gurley.

Then you have Notre Dame at Florida State. I’m not sure either team is as good as their ranking, but Florida State’s defense has really been struggling while Notre Dame’s defense has been stellar. I think we’ll find out the Irish haven’t played anyone with an offensive pulse after we watch this one.

JV2007: Are they going to try B Smith at LT any or is it just the LG position?

Smith has been practicing at left tackle all fall, but right now he’s getting a look at guard. He could still play the tackle position and it may be something else they look at if Shon Coleman continues to struggle like he did last week. He had a tough time with a very good pass rusher from Mississippi State and needs to improve down the stretch.

wcvet: Was the officiating you saw at MSU the worst you have ever seen?

Haha. It may not have been the worst I have seen this year. The Kansas State crew may have been worse that the one we saw last weekend, but it’s like splitting hairs. The lack of holding calls Auburn’s defensive line has drawn this season is amazing considering all the jersey pulling I witness from the field just about every week. Those two games were much more flagrant in my mind, however.

HoustonTiger: Does NM practice throwing a wet ball during the week in case of potential rain? During the rainy part of the MSU game his passes didn't look bad, just came out high.

Auburn has thrown a wet ball at times, but it’s not normal practice for most quarterbacks to do that because it’s much heavier and can sometimes lead to arm problems. They try to keep them as dry as possible during the game, but Malzahn admitted they didn’t get the ball changed on at least one of his errant throws last week. Marshall doesn’t have big hands so it makes it a little tougher for him to throw a wet football as well, something practice doesn’t help much.

aunatchamps: We seem to be intercepting more passes. Are our coaches making a point to teach our defensive backs to turn and look for the ball? Much better this year.

When he was hired we talked about Melvin Smith as being one of the biggest additions to the coaching staff along with his close friend Charlie Harbison. They have developed defensive backs who find a way to take away the football and it’s something they are already showing with Auburn in the second year. The cornerbacks are much more ball-aware and make more plays on the football than in past years. That leads to more opportunities for interceptions.

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