Jason Caldwell's Friday Auburn Mailbag Column: Vandy Football Game Week

Answering your questions about football and basketball heading into the Vanderbilt game on the gridiron and the exhibition opener for Bruce Pearl's Auburn basketball team.

Eli Stove (above) is a freshman wide receiver for the Tigers.

justafanwde: Assuming things go the way we expect, do you expect us to work on our passing or on our depth?

In a perfect world that would be exactly what the Tigers would do, but it’s never been Gus Malzahn’s style and Rhett Lashlee has followed the same pattern. When they get ahead they usually just run the football. I would like to see Auburn throw the football to build more chemistry in that department, and I think they’ll do some early, but I’m not expecting 25-30 throws.

AUFanRick: Whatever happened to Will Hastings? Was it just a matter of the other receivers finally getting the message? Who's the most improved player, offense or defense, so far this year?

I think it had more to do with the young guys settling in, in particular Kyle Davis. Kyle was injured early in camp so he was a little behind. It took him a few games to get caught up and when he did it was time to move ahead of Hastings. My most improved player on offense would be Chandler Cox. He is really playing much better. On defense I would go with Andrew Williams in a landslide.

AUPMBA: You see Kam Martin and JFIII getting more snaps this weekend if game effectively over at halftime?

If Auburn could build a big lead I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of them in the second half, but am not sure how much that lead would have to be. You have got to think that if Auburn gets to 28 it’s going to be tough for the Commodores to keep it close based on what they’ve done offensively.

ware12: If a play works Gus runs the same play over and over until the other team stops it, which he mentions in his assessment of Lashlee today. That obviously makes sense on the surface, but do you think he over does it against good teams?  Many times the better teams adjust quickly, stops us and we essentially lose a down.   That leads me to my next question of who do you think was the best play caller for AU over the past 20 years for AU?  You can't argue with Gus' (or Lashlee's) stats, but I remember Al Borges' first year in 2004, and being amazed that he always seemed to call the right play and keep the other defense off balance.   That combined with super talent made for a special season.  

In my mind Bobby Petrino is the best on gameday that I have seen since I have been covering Auburn in terms of calling plays. He’s always been great at setting things up and making them work.

WSlay: 1. Bailey Sharp seems to have fallen off the map. Does he have a chance down the line? 2. Mon Atkinson seems to be a very productive player, but not getting many chances.  Do you see him getting more snaps these final few games?

I think Bailey is on the same path as Robert Lef was on. He’s just trying to continue to build strength and size at the moment, but I’m not sure he is as athletic as Leff. I’ll be interested to see him in the spring. As for Montavious Atkinson, I love his ability and he’s definitely a guy you’ll continue to see more and more.

gtwstock: Vandy has been effective in SEC play in scoring defense. Are they deep enough on defense to expect that to continue or are they just fortunate to have played USC, UF, KY and UGA?

Unless I’m way off the mark, I think Vandy’s stats are much the same that we saw from Arkansas in that they are inflated based on competition. I’ll be very surprised if Auburn doesn’t run for 250+ on Saturday.

au3020: Shifting gears here, What do you think the starting line up will be for Bruce Pearl in the exhibition game against Montevalo?  Also, how much mix and match do you expect to see with players working with the first unit or second unit?  Players like Harper and Johnson who could play on either unit.

The lineup for Friday has Jared Harper, T.J. Dunks, Danjel Purifoy, Mustapha Heron and Horace Spencer scheduled to start, but I think we will see the Tigers go 10 deep and move players in and out to see how guys play together. From my standpoint I think they could go with five or six different lineups and be just fine.

AUTD2: Which of the young receivers do you think will have the most productive career at Auburn?

That’ o a really tough one because I see all three of the guys playing this season having big careers, especially if the offense continues to morph into what we’re seeing with Sean White. Kyle Davis is probably the best bet because he’s so physical and will be a sure-handed guy over the middle, but Elijah Stove is really impressive as is Nate Craig. I think Marquis McClain is going to be fun to watch as well when he gets on the field next season.

AuburnNinja: I've seen a couple of mentions on here about Robert Leff's high level of play this season, and that was backed up by a couple of analytics articles. Has he played himself into the NFL Draft?

Robert is playing really well at the moment. I’m not sure what he would look like for NFL scouts, but I could see him moving inside to guard because of his run blocking ability and athleticism. He’s got a lot of upside.

AUtigeritaville: Will you and Mark not shave for the month of November? For the Iron Bowl's 2 Minute Drill segment, I want to see full length beards.

I’m all for it, but I have a huge head start already. Not sure Mark will go for it, however.

aTigerinLR: Kerryon Johnson and Alaric Williams seem to have very similar skill sets.  Can you compare and contrast?

I think Kerryon is probably a more natural runner in terms of his instincts and cutting ability, but Alaric is going to be a bigger guy down the road. I could see him being 215-220 before he’s done if he stays at running back.

Actman: Looking at 2017 Football Recruiting. Who do you think are Auburn's top three (five) priorities / on their Board for rest of this class?

I would probably go with juco defensive end Isaiah Buggs, wide receivers like Tarik Black or Jeremiah Holloman and a pass rusher like Markaviest Bryant. Obviously, a guy like five-star safety Devon Hunter is on the list as well.

eagle70: Your prediction on where Auburn will finished based off scout.com's numbers in football recruiting for 2017 class?

Auburn is currently 13th at the moment and I expect that by the time they are done with this class the Tigers will be around 7-10, somewhere around there.

wtbtiger: If Coach Lashlee leaves for a head coaching job, do you see Coach Hand being promoted to oc or do you think CM will look outside the staff?

I think if Rhett were to get a head coaching job then Gus would look outside to bring in another offensive coordinator/quarterback coach. There is so much going on for an OL coach that it’s just so tough to do that a be a true coordinator.

wareagledoc: Who would you choose as the top 2 or 3 personalities on each side of the ball who are notable for being leaders, both on the field and in the locker room?

On offense I think Sean White definitely continues to shine through as one of the leaders on offense. I believe Austin Golson is one of those guys as well along with Chandler Cox. On defense both Tre Williams and DeShaun Davis are leaders along with Josh Holsey, Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams. There are a lot of those guys on defense.

AUTigerBSME90: Do you see us signing a TE/HB in this class?

It’s a possibility, but there’s just not many of those guys out there at the moment. I still think Marquis McClain makes the move to the position during bowl practices and plays that spot down the road. He’s already about 215 and I could see him at 225 next year. He could add a new dimension as an Evan Ingram-type of player. I think they feel good about walk-on fullbacks Keenan Sweeney and Spencer Nigh, however.

TigerNAggieLand: 2 parter: Is there a chance we will sign a fourth basketball player in the early signing period.? If so, who IYO is the most likely candidate? Thx.

I think that’s still a possibility. Big man Garrison Brooks remains a possibility with North Carolina and Georgia probably the other two teams in the mix. Auburn is still in the mix with center Ike Obiagu as well.

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