Photo by Jason Caldwell

Jason Caldwell's Friday Auburn Mailbag Column: Question And Answer Time On Football And Other Sports

Jason Caldwell of Inside the Auburn Tigers/AUTigers.com answers questions about football and other Auburn sports in this lengthy edition of his mailbag column.

Chandler Cox (above) is a sophomore running back and fullback for the Auburn Tigers.

Autigrs: Do you sense Jeremy Johnson has the potential and mindset to have a breakout / turn around senior season similar to Jason Campbell? Both had so much hype and expectations that left fans scratching their heads. I wish Jeremy could have the Senior Season Jason had. If he does, we could have a great season.

I think Jeremy has the potential and skills to have a huge season, but I just don’t know that he will get the opportunity to do that unless the other guys struggle. If that happens I could see Jeremy doing well because he’s worked hard to get ready for another shot. At this time I just think it’s tough to envision him being the starter even though he has been throwing the ball well this preseason.

 

Tiger82: How's the competition for punter going? I've heard speculation we might use both, depending on the situation.

In my opinion it may be the toughest competition to judge for the coaches. Scott Fountain said both have done a good job so far, but the thing that decides the starter is going to be consistency. That’s where the rubber meets the road at punter. He mentioned to me maybe using one guy for sky kicks in addition to the starting punter, which wouldn’t be a bad idea.

 

Wareagle7799: Jason in watching fall camp, what freshman guys get a chance to play vs which ones will probably redshirt from your estimation?

My guess right now is that Kameron Martin, Malik Miller, Landon Rice, Elijah Stove, Nate Craig, Kyle Davis and Marquis McClain may all play on offense. I think all of the freshmen wide receivers are going to push for time with Stove maybe at the top of the list. On defense I think you’ll see Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown, John Broussard and Daniel Thomas as guys who play this season. Tre Threat is also a possibility.

 

AUpoker: The 1992 Mens basketball "Dream" team was a sure fire lock to win gold in the Olympics. Since we started playing pros, USA only failed to win gold in 2004. What's your opinion of sending pros to the olympics vs. sending college kids? How tough would it be to send a gold medal team with all of the "1 and dones" in college basketball???

I think having professionals in the Olympics is a necessary thing to have a chance to compete with the top teams. It doesn’t really make me want to watch or not want to watch any more or less. I think if it went back to college guys then the U.S. would be in serious trouble in terms of not only trying to win a gold, but sometimes even a medal. There would be a lot of freshmen playing or older guys who aren’t as talented. Neither are good options.

 

Carnellisanescalade: Jason, if you were the head coach, what would your coaching staff look like? How would you organize your staff?

There’s no question in my mind that I would be an up-tempo offensive guy and team that with the most aggressive defensive coach I could find. Just my opinion, but I think in today’s game creating turnovers and three-and-outs on defense is huge and worth giving up a big play here or there. As far as the staff, I would have a mix of veterans and young guys with a lot of energy. The veterans would need to be guys who like to get on the recruiting trail ,however. In college football it starts with getting guys on campus.

 

Justafanwde: How does Chandler Cox's style and effectiveness compare to other recent Auburn men playing the same position.  Heath Evans & Brandon Johnson are the two I think of when I think of "Getting it done"?

It’s tough to compare Chandler to either one of those guys. I liken Cox to more of Heath Evans because of his running style while Brandon Johnson was just a straight up bruiser. I believe Cox is more fluid as an athlete than either one of those guys because of his roles as quarterback, safety, linebacker and other spots in high school. He is someone who could play a few different positions.

 

Saniflush; What are the rules changes that have helped offenses in recent years?

I think the biggest one that has helped the offense is that holding is now allowed within the framework of the body. You can grab as an offensive lineman and hold in as long as your hands don’t get outside the shoulders. That has made it much tougher to play defense. The other one is the targeting rule. The days of a wide receiver being timid about going over the middle are over because they know guys can’t lower the boom on them.

 

Mike4tigas: Did you watch "Last Chance U"? If so, your opinion please… (I know ya'll don't have time to watch TV; just had to ask)

I didn’t watch it. I have heard a lot about it, but I wanted to base my opinion of John Franklin of the guy I’ve spoken with probably 50 times since he arrived in January. He’s always gone out of his way to say hello and stopped to talk when he sees me. That’s usually all I need to know about a person. That combined with his work ethic this summer showed me a kid who wants to play.

 

TKane3117: It seems the consensus is that Kerryon Johnson will get the most touches out of the backfield, then Pettway. Who will be #3? K Martin? C. Cox? Someone else?

I think you’ll see Kerryon get 12-16 carries a game with Pettway and Cox probably combining for 12-18 depending on the style of game. Then I could see Kameron Martin getting 4-6 touches with even Malik Miller getting a handful as well.

 

TKane3117: If Sean White is the starter, that creates challenges by limiting running plays (zone read, for instance). What can the coaches do from a play calling standpoint to counter this?

I don’t think it’s so much about calling plays, but just about executing them. It makes it tougher to line up and run the ball six or seven straight times successfully like we’ve seen in the past so you have to throw the ball and do it successfully. If you can keep a defense honest throwing the football it will open up the run game. I think you also need to see the side-to-side running game a lot more from the speed backs like you did from Onterio McCalebb in 2009.

 

Bkatiger: Any advice/pointers for Fan Day Sunday? It's going to be at the indoor facility correct?

It all depends on what you’re looking to do. Personally, I would avoid Gus Malzahn and Aubie lines because that’s where you can spend all day. I would go for the younger players on both sides of the ball. They are usually the guys who are smiling the most anyway because it’s the first fan day for them and it’s exciting. Yes, it will be at the indoor practice field from 3:30-5:30 p.m. CDT. I hope you have a good time.

 

TKane3117: Lastly (and no you aren't going to hurt my feelings by picking the best of these 3 questions), given the fact that JJ and JF3's running ability is a big part of what they bring to the table, would you agree that the QB's not being live in this competition to be the starter synthetically lends favor for SW?

I think it probably hurts John Franklin more than the other two guys because much of what he brings to the table hinges on his running ability. They can still run and get outside the pocket, but just can’t be tackled, You can get an idea of their decision-making even without being live.

 

AUtigeritaville: I know SEC defenses are a different level than what Gus and Herb saw at Tulsa, but do you think we have the weapons to spread the ball around like when they had three 1,000 yard receivers and a 1,000 yard rusher? Its probably not realistic to hit those gaudy numbers, but is it possible we have the tools to efficiently spread the ball around like that Tulsa offense.

I think it would be tough to do something like that in the SEC, but I think having a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver is something that is very possible in this offense. I don’t know that you’re going to see Gus throw the ball that much in the SEC because it’s so important to be physical and be able to control the ball on the ground when you need to.

 

TBETBEZE: Jason, I have a 4 part question: I saw a "projected depth chart" the other day and it has Stephen Roberts ahead of Tray Matthews for one of the safety positions with Rudy obviously at Nickel. First, how is Tray doing coming off of his surgery? Is he practicing completely? Second, if he is participating and is 100%, are he and Stephen Roberts practicing at the same position?

Third, is he really ahead of Tray on the depth chart, do you thing? To me that says a lot about our depth at that position. Last, who do you project as a starter at the other safety position?

Tray Matthews is doing fine and is having a very good offseason, but Stephen Roberts has picked up where he left off last season and is doing all the things necessary to take his game to another level. I predict he is a starter on opening night with either Tray or Nick Ruffin starting on the other side. The safeties can play either side so moving them is not a problem.

 

M5guy: I guess I have a statement/question. Gus seems to always say "we take what the defense gives us" and last year that did not include throwing to the TE. If White is the starter I see throwing to the TE as a must in order to loosen the defenses up. What do you see our offense "hanging it's hat on" with White as the starter. I am a Sean White fan by the way.

I think throwing to the tight end can be a huge safety net for a quarterback and an offense in general. Last season would have been a great time to have one of those guys, but they didn’t have a tight end they trusted in that spot so much of the time they played an offensive lineman at the position when they needed a guy to block. That should change this year with Jalen Harris and Landon Rice both looking good in the preseason.

 

Adam36830: I know that last year we were ranked toward the bottom of the league in most defensive categories.  Where do you expect AU to be ranked (in the SEC) in the major defensive statistical areas?  

I see Auburn being, at worst, in the middle of the pack this season with the potential to be better than that. I think it’s tougher to be a lights out defense statistically playing this offensive style, but I think there will be a lot of improvement.

 

Wtbtiger: Where is the defense in comparison to last years defense after the first scrimmage? What do you see at the main difference between last years defensive staff and this one in teaching techniques?

I think this defense is deeper in terms of quality talent than it was last year at this time. I also like this linebacker group and think those players are more instinctive than we’ve seen the last two years. As far as teaching goes on defense I don’t think there’s a great deal of difference on the back seven, but Travis Williams’ approach is definitely different than Will Muschamp. There is not nearly as much yelling from Travis. He’s in the mold of former Auburn coach Joe Whitt.

 

Unalions; what type of bike did you use in the sprint triathlons?

If I had any chance to win or even finish it would be a motorbike.

 

Auhoppa: If Kamryn Pettway raced... JK... How has Byron Cowart looked so far in practice? Do you think having a true freshman actually pushing him has added an extra bit of motivation for him to perform up to his large expectations?

I don’t think Cowart needed any extra motivation after last season. He struggled as a true freshman, something that happens to most of the guys making the transition from high school to college, but because he was rated higher he took a lot of unwarranted criticism. He worked really hard in the offseason and the summer and has had a good camp. I think Auburn’s trio of Cowart, Marlon Davidson and Paul James could be a big strength by the end of the year.

 

IB Springer: This time last year everything was about the megajumbotron we were installing, and we even practiced/scrimmaged in JHS "so the players could adjust to it."  Since we have some potential true freshman playing this year, are they doing that again or did we discover it wasn't a big deal?  I'm mainly thinking of the FR WR's, I think college football's largest screen could be a distraction (and I think playing in front of that many people for the first time could obviously also have an impact- it would freak me out for sure).  

Being on the field it’s not really a distraction at all once you get used to it. Almost all of these guys have been in the stadium several times before as recruits so I don’t believe it’s a big deal for them.

 

AUTigerBSME90: What rule change would you like to see? For me, I would start teams at the 40 instead of the 25 in overtime. That way, teams with a special kicker are rewarded. Otherwise, I think a team should have to earn at least 1 first down in overtime to be able to kick a field goal.

I think that’s a great idea. It would create a different way of playing the game that’s for sure. I would probably go with changing the way holding is (or isn’t) called. I’m just tired of seeing certain teams get away with obvious holding over and over again without any penalties. Something to watch for is grabbing a guy just for one tug of the jersey and then letting go. It kills the momentum of the defender and allows the offensive play to succeed. It’s not exaggerated holding, but it’s holding nonetheless and teams get away with it over and over again.

 

Ware12: How can our coaches spend two plus seasons working with JJ, in practice and games and get it so wrong last year, yet expect to evaluate and choose the correct QB after a few fall practices and one or two scrimmages?  The canned answer is " you never know how a QB will respond....." However, they had much more "tape" on JJ then they have now on the others.  I have heard lots of speculation, but never a good explanation of why JJ played so poorly last year after such high preseason praise, and why everyone expects that to continue this year.   How much of the reason is coaching in your opinion, and If JJ doesn't get the start, what do you think is the reason?

Sometimes you just get it wrong or the player doesn’t get the job done. It happens frequently and it won’t be the last time it happens to a quarterback. You see it all the time in the NFL. They had more tape on Jeremy, but he had never been “the guy” before at the college level. He played against Arkansas and had a great performance, but he knew it was only for a half and he was done. It’s just a different world when you’re dealing with the pressure of expectations. I think Jeremy could go out this season and be lights out if he gets the opportunity. Ben Leard was about as bad as you can be in 1998, much worse than Jeremy was last year, and was All-SEC two years later. It happens.

 

MelissaNGa: Have there been any repercussions among the team now that Last Chance U has been shown?  Do you know if they watched it?

I’m sure a lot of the guys watched it on their own, but they’ve also all been around the game and the locker room all their lives. I don’t think anything they see or hear is going to impact them at Auburn.

 

Waregledkp: Hello, Jason.  I don't get to Auburn like I should & this is getting to you pretty late, so answering it next week will be just fine.  Where does AU stand in the SEC "Facilities Race"?  What is the focus for current and upcoming athletic facility improvements / additions?  Thanks, in advance.

I would say that right now Auburn is in the middle of the pack in the SEC with Alabama, Arkansas, Texas A&M easily in front in my opinion with Miss. State, Ole Miss, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all at least right there. Even Kentucky is making some big moves with Commonwealth Stadium and their new football facility very nice. Auburn’s infrastructure at Jordan-Hare Stadium needs to be improved dramatically and much of it are things the general fan would never see. Scholarship areas, press box, on-field press facilities, etc. are way below the standard of the league right now.

On the positive side Auburn has a great dorm setup along with the wellness kitchen and student activity center. Those are huge positives on campus and makes for one of the best student-athlete experiences in the league. Also Auburn Arena is one of the best venues in the league. Both baseball and softball are still great places to watch a game, but need to update things to stay up with the top teams in the league. That's especially true in baseball.

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