Jason Caldwell's Friday Auburn Mailbag: Wrapping Up 2016 And Looking Ahead For The Tigers

Football and basketball are featured in this edition of Jason Caldwell's Friday Mailbag column.

Jarrett Stidham (above) will join Auburn's quarterback competition for the 2017 season.

wtbtiger: Do you think that CP will get Wiley more involved in the offense. Right now the offense is more penetrate to the goal and kick out.

I think Austin Wiley will continue to get some touches in the post game, but if this team continues to struggle with its shooting from the perimeter then Coach Bruce Pearl could make his freshman center an even bigger part of the offense.

wtbtiger: There was a lot of negative posts about Gus and the offense after the Sugar Bowl. Do you foresee any changes in the staff or philosophy I going into the Spring?

I don’t know for sure that there will be changes on the offensive side of the ball, but I wouldn’t be shocked if some were to take place before the spring. As for a change in philosophy, I don’t think you will see sweeping changes, but with Jarrett Stidham coming in at quarterback I think the offense will continue to evolve with more passing game to set up the run.


tigeroletimer: Do you really think Chip Kelly would come to Auburn, IF there was an opening.  And I'm not saying there would or should be.  Just wondering if Chip would come to the sec.

I don’t think Chip Kelly would turn down a job like Auburn if it was open. The question would be how much it would take to get him and if that would be a possibility. My guess is that he would command a pretty high price.


auhoppa: Say Stidham was named the starter out of Spring practice. Do you think Sean White would transfer?

I don’t think Sean White would transfer next year if Stidham wins the job. He will be close to earning his degree and if he were to transfer he would have to sit out anyway. I think there’s a bigger possibility that if Stidham wins the job and is still around in 2018 that White could transfer out as a graduate and play right away.


Gilmer: I am curious about your thoughts on how many slots we have left for this recruiting class and which positions/targets are priority. Thank you

Right now Auburn is looking to sign 26 guys with one counting back on last year's total. That leaves seven spots in this year’s class. I would say the biggest priority is on the defensive line. Already with Alec Jackson in the group the focus is on adding a true tackle and a dynamic pass rusher. They would also like to add another wide receiver to the group, probably a bigger guy if it’s not Henry Ruggs.


fredl: How do you feel about our defense going into 2017, and our DL in particular?

I believe the defense has a chance to be as good next season as it was this year. I believe the secondary and linebackers should be improved because of the depth of the groups. Up front the key to me is rushing the passer. I feel like Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown are going to be stars on the defensive line and with Dontavius Russell, Andrew Williams and Antwuan Jackson the interior line should be good. Can they get enough pass rush? That’s the question.


AUtigeritaville: If you're building a program, who would you rather have as your Head Strength and Conditioning coach, Ryan Russell or Kevin Yoxall?

Having watched both of them in action I think both are among the best in the country. What Ryan Russell is doing now with the program has them moving very quickly in the right direction IMO. I thought watching guys like Montravius Adams on defense and Robert Leff on offense really take off in their fourth years was proof that Russell is doing good things.


BSCAUTigerforlife99: Why did & does Gus seem to have such a hard time playing the much more talented freshman trio of WRs about 75-85% of the time after mid-season? I was obvious to any person with any football IQ that those guys were the most talented playmakers at the position. I had a real hard time watching a 5'7 Hastings (no offense to the kid though) running single man pass routes in the bowl game. Why do we continue to run single man pass routes with no other check down options for the QB? I have seen this 3 years in a row in games. Infuriates me. Are we ever going to allow our QBs, under Gus, to make a check to another play at the line, especially when you see DBs playing 8-10 yards off the WRs in short to medium yardage situations?

Those are all good questions. They did play Eli Stove a whole lot more down the stretch than he played early in the season so my guess is he earned the playing time. Kyle Davis is the one I thought deserved to be on the field more. Nate Craig was not full speed due to nagging injuries throughout the year and that kept him from making more of a move.


AUPMBA: What's your opinion on the lack quality development of back up QB's under Gus/Rhett?

I think that’s an issue with just about every team in the country, but it just so happens that most teams don’t have to get to them in their biggest games of the season. Probably the biggest thing is giving yourself better options. For whatever reason Jeremy Johnson never became the guy we expected. As a quarterback it just happens. The woods are full of talented guys at that position who didn’t get it done when stepping up to a higher level of competition. I think they panicked and signed John Franklin looking to catch lightning in a bottle because he has outstanding speed. Signing Stidham to join White should give you a better second option.


AUpoker: Is Stidham the answer?

I think it would be great news for Auburn if he is. He has definitely got the talent to be the answer and now he has a great opportunity with the Tigers. The biggest thing in my opinion is that having Stidham and Sean White gives you two similar players, allowing you to keep the offense going if one is hurt.


joecollegestreet: Honest answer - do u feel optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Auburn football? On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being great, what score would u give Jay Jacobs as Auburn AD and why?

I still feel optimistic about the program because we’ve seen with the right quarterback things can get going in a hurry. Malzahn has done that twice and if Stidham and White can stay healthy this team could be fun to watch. The defense improved in 2016 with Kevin Steele coordinating it and he will have a lot of his key players back for the 2017 season. As for Jacobs I would give him probably a 6 or so. While there have been plenty of bad calls, he’s had a national title and played for another under his watch in football. In basketball Tony Barbee was a big hire that didn’t work out. It's hard to argue with bringing Bruce Pearl in to rebuild that program. They’ve also done a lot of good things in women’s sports. In the end the three big sports tell the story and until those become more consistent then it’s tough to give him higher marks.


tommytiger: Do you think Jay Gogue ever understood the importance of a highly successful athletic program at Auburn?

I think Jay Gogue understood the importance of athletics as much as just about every college president. A few around the country probably put more emphasis on it, but most are concerned about running the university as well as possible.


AUTigerBSME90: If you had to grade Gus and his staff by member, then what would your grades be and why?

I would probably give Gus a 5 at the moment. They’ve done good things at times and have put some good talent on the field for this team, but there are still a whole lot of issues that have to be addressed moving forward.


autigerman: Starting center and TE for 2017,who is competing there?

Austin Golson returns at center for the Tigers next season and barring an injury I expect him to be in that role again in 2017. As for the tight end, Jalen Harris improved and there’s no reason to think he won’t be better next year with juice transfer Sal Cannella also playing there as more of a receiver-type.


carnellisanescalade: In your opinion, is Gus a stubborn coach? If so, is there any reason to believe that he'll adapt his offense in the future? I know that all season for two years you have written then Gus needs to open up the passing game to take pressure off of the run, but although it seems that EVERYONE can see that, we seem to stick to the same things

I don’t think there’s any question that Gus is stubborn, but that’s part of what makes coaches who they are. I do think he is learning as he goes along and did something about it this year by turning the offense over to Rhett Lashlee. Also by bringing in someone like Kevin Steele he allowed the defense to take shape. As far as the passing game when Sean White was healthy the Tigers did some good things throwing the ball. Now they’ve just got to do more of it.


daveau85: Paul James?     Can you give us a status of his recovery and is he eligible for a medical redshirt?

James is coming along nicely following his injury. Physically, the defensive end looks good and I would guess he’s probably closer to 280 at the moment. I think he will be a good option as a bigger pass rusher and could play behind Marlon Davidson on the strong side. A junior who hasn't redshirted, he should be able to get a medical this season.


justafanwde: Does the NCAA differentiate between "Medical" RS and a regular RS. 5 to play 4 is standard, is it not? 6th year available for longer recovery time or re-injure the original. Can you clear up the RS rule please.

5 to play 4 is the standard for players. You can redshirt if you don’t play in any contests during the season, but only one time. If you haven’t redshirted and play in less than 30 percent of your season’s games and get a season-ending injury then you’re eligible for a medical redshirt. A sixth-year is usually only available if the same injury causes you to miss multiple seasons or if there is an unusual circumstance like happened with Shon Coleman being sidelined for multiple years while he was fighting cancer.


tomball: Jason, if Gus is not the de facto OC, please list reasons why we/anyone should desire him as the HC. What are his best attributes as a HC only? TIA.

I think he’s improved as a head coach and like many guys he’s developing his feel for the game now that he’s stepped away from the coordinator side of things. The guy knows football and it would be difficult to find a head coach who works any harder at his job. You don’t accomplish what he’s done without knowing the game. Making the right recruiting decisions and staff decisions are things he’s working on improving. I don't know of too many coaches in the sport that didn’t have to do the same.


m5guy: What do you see in store for the 2017 Football Tigers? I want to be optimistic but I feel like Smart & Orgeron will have better teams next year than they did this year & that isn't good for us. Will all the pieces be in place for a much improved team on both sides of the ball?

If Sean White stayed healthy the 2016 Tigers were a nine-win team at worst. As it stands they were still improved and with Stidham coming in I see no reason why they can’t be better next year. With Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson in the running game and a bunch of receivers coming back, having two quarterbacks they can count on should make them better. The defense should be good again as well and the Tigers will have one of college football's top kickers. The schedule could be more difficult with the road games the Tigers have got, but Auburn will be a talented team again.


Rickster14: What are you hearing about a new DB coach? Also, what possible coaching changes do you think may happen on offense?

I’m just hearing a bunch of different names floating around right now, but nothing concrete coming out at the moment. I don’t think it will take a long time for a new coach to be named. I expect it to be done in the next week. As for offensive changes, again nothing definitive, but I wouldn’t  be surprised to see a change on that side of the ball.

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