All of the different parts of the year are important in building a successful college football program and spring practice is certainly a time when a team can take a big step forward. I think there is a lot of positive anticipation around the program as Auburn prepares for the 2016 season. I think one of the reasons for that is that I think this group has a chance to be real good on defense.
Offensively, it is vitally important that the Tigers get the production they need at the quarterback position. It should be an interesting spring from that aspect with two players back with starting experience and a newcomer, John Franklin, coming in from junior college to challenge Sean White and Jeremy Johnson to be No. 1 on the depth chart.
The more I hear about Franklin, not only as an athlete but about the type of person and leader he is, the more I think he is going to make the other quarterbacks get better if they want to play ahead of him this year.
If Tyler Queen comes back from his surgery ready to push for a starting spot the quarterback competition this season the quarterback competition will become even more interesting. I really liked Queen last spring. He is a big, rugged quarterback who is not afraid to pull the football down and run it. When he does that he is capable of running around and through defenders.
For whoever is playing quarterback, it will be important that he comes out of spring training with a variety of receivers he feels comfortable throwing to and a guy I think will fit that description is senior Tony Stevens. He has big-time size and a lot of ability so I won’t be surprised to see him become a much bigger part of the passing game this year.
Also on offense the Tigers will look to replace last year’s starters at tackle, Shon Coleman and Avery Young, who will be trying to make NFL rosters later this year. If the coaches can get those spots figured out this spring it will be a big step forward.
This spring will also be important for Gus Malzahn and his rebuilt staff to become comfortable working together as they prepare for the challenges ahead in the SEC. I think Coach Malzahn has done a great job with his new hires as he tries to get the program back on track to challenge for championships. There really is a different feel around the athletic complex with everybody on the same page when it comes to improving as a team.
There is nothing like a season-opener with a strong opponent like Clemson to give the players and coaches motivation to work at getting better every day. Having a chance to play begin the season vs. a team that almost won the 2015 national championship is exciting. Those are the types of games that you look forward to as a player when you know that you have to go out there and be at your best to have a chance to win.
I know the Auburn people are hungry for more success this year after their team finished 7-6 last season and I believe the same is true with the players and coaches. I think there are enough pieces in place for the 2016 Tigers to win more games than they did last year. It’s a new year and I’m excited about it. I don’t know how many more of these I’ll be able to witness. but I’m going to enjoy the ones that I’ve got left.