Jason Caldwell's Monday Morning QB Column: Spring Has Sprung

Auburn opens spring practice this week and several key positions are worth keeping an eye on for the Tigers.

Even though the calendar isn’t officially spring, the weather and the fact that football is starting up again at Auburn means spring is here. This will be an interesting one for Coach Gus Malzahn and the Tigers with new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey on board.

The biggest question mark will be just how good is new quarterback Jarrett Stidham and how much of a difference can that make for the offense?

Early indications are that his coaches and teammates are very, very pleased with how the former Baylor standout has approached things since arriving on campus in December.

Getting several practices under his belt before the Tigers went to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, Stidham showed arm strength and athleticism. Since then it has been all about his work ethic and leadership. That is something that could push him to a starting role and push this Auburn offense to a higher performance level.

Another position on offense that will be interesting to watch is wide receiver. In particular a guy to pay attention to is Marquis McClain.

Perhaps the most impressive freshman physically at the position when the group arrived on campus last summer, McClain’s blocking in camp was almost enough to get him on the field last season, but the coaching staff decided to redshirt him. Now more refined after working on his route running and hands last year following a high school career that saw him play a number of different positions, McClain could be a big boost at the position this spring.

On defense the focus is on finding someone to step up as a pass rusher. If Jeff Holland can continue to develop he should be a good option coming off the edge, but the guy to watch is going to be redshirt freshman Nick Coe.

Physically he’s got everything you’re looking for in a defensive end being 6-6, 265 with good feet and quickness. Combine that with a positive attitude that his teammates and coaches said was infectious and you have a guy who could make a strong push this spring.

Another guy I’m looking forward to watching in the spring is Paul James. We got a glimpse of him early in the preseason last year and in the season before an injury ended his year prematurely. Definitely bigger than he was at this time last year, the extra size could give James a chance to work at either defensive end position and add extra depth for both spots.

A position that will get overlooked this spring, but is an important one to shore up for Auburn is at punter where Kevin Phillips turned in a very solid job during his two years with the Tigers. Blessed with a strong leg, Ian Shannon needs to step up and win the job in the spring in order to solidify the position moving into the summer. If that doesn’t happen then the job will be a true free-for-all come the preseason.

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