From what I have seen I like the body language and the effort the Tigers are putting forth on the field. That is the case with the players and the coaches. If that keeps up I think this will be a fun football team to watch. The Tigers certainly have a lot of growing to do, but I?think they have a chance to be much improved in 2016.
At this stage of spring practice the team is a long, long way from being a finished product. It is also going to be inexperienced in places and because of that the Tigers will have an opportunity to improve throughout the season as those players gain confidence and experience.
Among the problems this group is going to have to overcome is not returning much experience at the linebacker spots. Tre Williams is the only one who has seen a lot of playing time for the Tigers.
Also, there is a probability that the team will be relying on defensive backs who have not seen much college playing time. One thing that has stood out about the secondary this year is that those players seem locked in to what they are doing. They are coaching each other on the field and on the sideline in addition to competing so it looks like improvement is something the group is serious about doing.
Over on offense the Tigers are replacing running back Peyton Barber. Considering how much he carried the ball last season that is a big deal, but I don’t see any dropoff coming at this position. I was particularly impressed with what I saw from Roc Thomas in the scrimmage and Jovon Robinson looked like Jovon Robinson at the end of the 2015 season, which is a good thing. I really think the Tigers are going to be solid at running back.
In the first scrimmage Robinson played like the guy who performed well in the bowl victory vs. Memphis. It looks like Roc has matured a lot. You can see it in his body language. He has gotten bigger and stronger plus he is playing with more confidence.
The young running back, freshman Malik Miller, had a couple of fumbles in the scrimmage, but I think he is going to be fine. Someone who impressed me running the football was sophomore Chandler Cox. The fullback is not one of those make-you-miss type of runners, but he is a load and he runs mad. Any players trying to tackle him better have their cleats in the ground because they are going to get run over if they don’t. The other big fullback who has been running the ball this spring, Kamryn Pettway, didn’t participate in the scrimmage, but from what I can gather he has been a bright spot so far.
Coach (Gus) Malzahn said that returning quarterbacks Sean White and Jeremy Johnson look more comfortable and more confident. I agree with that. In the scrimmage the newcomer at quarterback, John Franklin, showed the ability with his legs we thought he would bring to the team. Because he is not a big guy you have to be concerned about his durability and he needs to become a more polished passer, something I think will happen with plenty of repetitions in practice because of his work ethic. Franklin has got a long way to go be a finished product at quarterback, but we saw some stuff in his first Auburn scrimmage that was encouraging.
Probably the thinnest area of the team is the wide receiver group. They did a good job of catching the football in the scrimmage with maybe one drop. They are practicing hard, but they don’t have as much competition at that position as they do on the offensive line where Tigers are rotating a lot of folks. With the offensive front, as is the case with the defensive line, there is not a lot of difference between the guys who are lined up with the first team and the players with the second string. That could be a good thing for a team trying to develop more depth.
A plus for the 2016 team is that it returns its starting kickers and that should not be overlooked. In my opinion it is a really good thing.
The Tigers will need all of the positives they can get as they prepare for a tough season-opener vs. Clemson. As challenging as that game will be, it could be a blessing for this Auburn team, which should be highly motivated in the offseason to get ready to perform at a high level to start the season. Combine that will a lot of spring positions battles that will probably continue over the summer, and go into preseason drills in August before being decided, and there should be plenty of motivation for the Tigers in the months leading up to the 2016 season.