Kamryn Pettway (above) has won praise for his play this spring.
Auburn, Ala.--As spring football on the Plains comes to a climax on Saturday with the annual A-Day game, Tiger fans will get a preview of an offense that is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2015 performance.
When the action gets started with the 3:05 p.m CDT (SEC Network TV coverage) start at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the following are three key offensive areas to watch for the 2016 Auburn Tigers.
Are the Quarterbacks Improving?
Rhett Lashlee, who is in charge of the QB play in addition to coordinating the overall offense, is expected to give an equal amount of scrimmage time to senior Jeremy Johnson and junior John Franklin along with redshirt sophomore Sean White, who closed the 2015 season as the starter in the bowl victory over Memphis.
Healthy again after limping through the later part of his redshirt freshman season with knee and foot injuries, White will look to take advantage of his skills as passer and confidence as a signal caller to emerge as the favorite to open the season No. 1 on the depth chart.
With the QBs expected to wear orange “no contact” jerseys, how they throw the football will likely be their focus on Saturday, something that should be a plus for White, the least dangerous of the trio when it comes to running the football but probably the most accurate thrower.
Jeremy Johnson is Auburn's most experienced quarterback.
In contrast, Franklin’s strength is his ability to run using both his speed and moves to make defenders miss. Although he has a strong arm there is a question about the junior college transfer’s consistency at getting the football to the right place at the right time. Saturday will offer a big stage for Franklin to show what type of progress he has made this spring.
Expected to not only be the starter last year but the key player on the team after two impressive seasons in an understudy role to Nick Marshall, Johnson struggled out of the gate, lost his starting role and appeared to lose confidence during the process.
After White was injured vs. Arkansas, Johnson got another chance and produced some solid results with a good all-around performance in a road win at Texas A&M plus several positive plays in a brief appearance in the bowl victory. However, if Johnson moves to the top of the depth chart again he needs to be more consistent in all phases of his play if the offense is going to be dangerous enough to substantially improve on last year’s results.
With Tyler Queen out for Saturday's game with a shoulder injury, each of the other three scholarship quarterbacks should get plenty of chances to show what they can. A little added pressure could come from the fact that two potential key receivers (Kyle Davis and Stanton Truitt) are hurt and three from the 2016 signee class won’t practice with the team until August after they have graduated from high school. That means the QBs will be throwing to a receiving corps that is in transition and not a team strength.
Can New OL Starters Tackle Their Assignments?
The lure of potential big bucks in the NFL enticed both starting tackles from 2015, Sean Coleman on the left side and Avery Young at right tackle, to skip their final collegiate seasons to enter the draft.
New offensive line coach Herb Hand will give fifth-year senior Robert Leff a shot to win the right tackle job while redshirt junior Austin Golson is currently running No. 1 at first team left tackle.
Golson started at center last year, but the former Ole Miss player has previous experience at tackle.
Austin Golson has seen practice time at every offensive line position.
Hand’s goal is to get the best five blockers on the field at the same time and if Xavier Dampeer falls into that category he could be the choice at center, paving the way for Golson to start at left tackle.
Darius James, eligible this year after redshirting last fall following a transfer from the University of Texas, is also a possibility to win a starting role at tackle.
Auburn’s defensive front looks to be improved compared to last year so the tackles are expected to get a good test on Saturday.
Competition To Carry the Ball?
Going into spring drills there was concern about the team’s lack of healthy bodies at running back with Peyton Barber leaving early for the NFL Draft and Kerryon Johnson out due to shoulder surgery.
The only two returning scholarship tailbacks, Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas, are battling to become the main man. Thomas began 2015 in that role, but Robinson finished No. 1 and won bowl game MVP honors with a strong performance vs. Memphis.
Chandler Cox contributed last fall as a true freshman fullback and H-back.
The lack of tailbacks opened the door for sophomore fullbacks Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox to get spring work as featured runners. Position coach Tim Horton, Lashlee and even the head coach himself, Gus Malzahn, have praised Cox and Pettway for the way they have run the football this spring. They are expected to get carries on Saturday along with early high school graduate Malik Miller.
Last season as freshmen the fullbacks, Pettway and Cox, did not play a major role in the offense, but that could change this fall and the A-Day game could offer the pair of physical football players a chance to show they are ready for an expanded role as runners and receivers.