Photo by Jason Caldwell

Monday Morning QB Column: Defensive Line A Strength, John Franklin Stepping Up Already

Spring football, Auburn baseball and softball are the topics in this edition of Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning Quarterback column.

Devaroe Lawrence (above) could be a key player for the Auburn defensive front this season.

Defensive Line A Strength

There is no question that heading into spring practice and the 2016 football season Auburn’s defensive line has the potential to be one of the best, if not the best, the Tigers have had in the last decade. With the return of Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson added to a group of veterans like Devaroe Lawrence, Maurice Swain and Dontavius Russell inside, Auburn’s front three/four has all the makings of a group that could have a breakout season for Coach Rodney Garner.

The key to the group may well be Lawrence. Always a player who Garner has singled out because of his athletic ability and size, the still raw Lawrence is improving rapidly as a player and much of the reason for that is his development off the field. A hard worker in the weight room and doing the mat drills in offseason conditioning. Lawrence has also become one of the top guys for the Tigers when it comes to playing host to visitors on campus and bonding with teammates. Those things definitely haven’t gone unnoticed and it will be fun to see just how much Lawrence can improve as a senior.

Devaroe Lawrence (above) could be a key player for the Auburn defensive front this season.

Franklin Leading The Way

Although he’s only been on campus for around two months there’s no doubt that John Franklin is already making a big impact on his new coaches and teammates because of the work he’s put in during the winter. The junior college transfer was going to have every opportunity to be Auburn’s quarterback no matter how things went in January and February, but his work ethic has given him some extra momentum heading into the start of spring practice on Tuesday.

The biggest thing he has done is become the central figure in getting the quarterbacks and receivers together to throw in the afternoons. That has happened as recently as this past Saturday when guys like Tony Stevens and Jason Smith showed up at the football complex to run routes with him. It’s that kind of leadership that may be the biggest thing Franklin can show this spring and if he adds in the running ability and a strong arm then the Tigers could have the guy they were missing last season.

Tony’s Time

Speaking of Stevens, he looks like a different guy as he prepares for his final spring practice for the Tigers barring some sort of injury. Noticeably bigger and stronger, Stevens has always had the ability to run and catch the football but just hasn’t had many opportunities. Just one of three guys with real experience at the position joining Marcus Davis and Smith, Stevens has a great chance to become one of Auburn’s breakout performers in 2016.


Missed Opportunity

For Auburn baseball a solid week took a downturn on Sunday when the Tigers dropped a 6-5 decision to Southern University. While taking the series and winning a game over Florida A&M meant a 3-1 week for Coach Butch Thompson’s club, dropping a game to winless Southern is one the Tigers may look back on later in the year and see a missed opportunity.

Before that happens, however, this team has a whole lot of improvements to make in every area of play, starting with on the mound. Without experienced starter Cole Lipscomb available over the weekend because of a violation of teams rules, an already thin pitching staff was made even thinner. Saturday starter Justin Camp gave the Tigers a great start in picking up a win, but the other two days Thompson was heavily dependent on the bullpen and that’s never a good thing.

Perhaps the only good thing to come out of that was the performance of true freshman Casey Mize. Forced into early action on Sunday, Mize pitched five and two/thirds innings and was consistently throwing his fastball into the low and even mid 90’s. Showing good command and throwing strikes, Mize has been in the bullpen with Ben Braymer, but he may have pitched himself into a starting role with his performance on Sunday.


Monster Weekend For Softball

There was never much of a doubt that Coach Clint Myers and the Auburn softball Tigers would have a great chance to roll through the Tiger Invitational over the weekend, but putting up the numbers they did can never be expected. Finishing things off on Sunday with a 21-0 win over Indiana State in just five innings, Auburn outscored the opposition 50-1 with three of the four games called early because of a run rule.

While the offensive output isn’t a huge surprise based on the numbers Auburn put up a season ago and with the returning players coming back, the improvement with the pitching staff has stood out early in the schedule. In four games last weekend Auburn threw three shutouts and allowed just nine hits.

Now 15-1 on the year, the Tigers have a team ERA of just 1.04 and are allowing opponents a team batting average of only .182. That is likely to change moving forward when Auburn gets into SEC play, but last season’s ERA of 3.59 is a long way from where this team is right now and that is very good news for a team that should only get better as the season goes along.

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