Jason Caldwell's Friday Auburn Mailbag Column Features Football, Basketball, Baseball & Other Questions

Talking Auburn football, impact players and a whole lot more in this loaded Friday Mailbag.

MSandPHDatAU: Any news on how Antwuan Jackson is looking or predictions on his role this year?

There is no questioning Jackson’s athletic ability up front on the defensive line, but he’s got to continue to bring it consistently day in and day out. Right now is what he needs to do to earn major playing time this year. I think he can be a key contributor on behind Dontavius Russell in the fall, but Andrew Williams and Byron Cowart are going to make him work for it.


m5guy: Jason this question is out of curiosity! How is travel determined (whether flying or taking the bus) and is it the same for all sports? I didn't know if there was a "mile or time on the road limit" that would determine flying vs busing & if all sports were treated the same. Thanks!

Time and distance play into it. Football and basketball buses to Alabama and Georgia at at times has flown or taken a bus to Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Baseball, softball, volleyball, golf, etc. will drive pretty much everywhere except the long distance trips in the league like Arkansas, Missouri and Texas A&M or trips to distance parts of the country. Even some of those are driving trips depending on the time of year or week.


AUTIGER64INNC: Through the first half of spring training...Who is making the most noise for increased playing time on defense and offense??

I would probably say on defense it has been Byron Cowart for the simple fact that he wasn’t going to be in the rotation at end. Now at tackle he is showing some fight and that’s what Rodney Garner is looking for out of him. On offense I would probably go with Will Hastings. He’s becoming a go-to guy for Jarrett Stidham and with some tweaks in the passing game he’s becoming a guy to stretch the middle of the field.


gtwstock: Who do you think is best suited to become the next weekend starter if that need should arise for a few weeks? And how would that person's current role be replaced?

The first choice would obviously be Cole Lipscomb, but he’s been strictly a reliever since the fall and I wouldn’t mess with that now. I also wouldn’t mess with Andrew Mitchell because he can give you a lefty look twice on a weekend. Right now I would say Ryan Watson is probably the guy that has done the best with Gabe Klobosits also a possibility.


howells: I am wondering where Spencer Nigh sp? fits in this year. I have heard a couple folks mention he looks good. Could we see him and Cox at the same time ever? Can he play on the end of the line in a heavy situation?

Spencer Nigh is an impressive blocker who is really physical. I’m still not sure where he fits at the moment, but I like your suggestion of putting him on the end of the line. I could see him in the game for goal line and short yardage situations. His new position coach, Larry Porter, said that Nigh is performing well this spring.


wtbtiger: Who would you like to see CP add to his staff? Do you foresee anyone else leaving?

I’m assuming you mean Bruce Pearl. I could see Jason Shay being a guy who gets a long look. He was with Pearl for a long time and they have a history dating back to his days at Iowa. He’s currently at East Tennessee State as an assistant. The coach at ETSU is another former Pearl assistant Steve Forbes.


AUHighMark: How does Brian Blackmon help Auburn the most? Also, have you ever heard of GA and analyst that were true "gamechangers"? If so, who and how?

I think Brian Blackmon probably helps as much as anything with being a sounding board and another pair of eyes for Chip Lindsey. Lindsey held the same role with Gus Malzahn in 2013 and it can be really useful for a coach. As for GA’s or analysts who can be game changers. I think Blake Gideon was close to being that in 2015. He was really, really important for that secondary. Former graduate assistant Erik Link was also really, really important to Auburn’s special teams success in the past before leaving to coach high school ball two years ago.


Sherpa88: Jason, is the NCAA allowing the baseball players to use the new Axe Bat for competition this year? I know it was all the rage when MLB allowed it last year. And most who tried it noticed marked improvement in their BAs.

I’m not sure if it’s legal or not, but most every team has a contract (Auburn is Easton) so they’re using bats from one particular manufacturer.


AUHighmark: With the experience you have of being around college athletes for several years, do you feel like you can pick out the winners or impact players within a few times of observing them and getting to know them? This is sort of a backhanded way of asking could you pick winning recruits better because you get to see a variety of angles of a kid? What's the key in your mind of finding the racehorses and staying away from the donkeys, from a college recruiting standpoint?

I can usually get a pretty good feel for guys who will be good, but I have been wrong a lot, too. Some guys were sure things like Carnell Williams and others that I liked proved to be really good like Tommy Jackson and Sammie Coates. I have also missed on guys I thought were sure-fire stars like Tray Blackmon or Jeremy Johnson. What I have learned is you can see all the tools, but you just never know how it’s going to translate to the next level for some guys. That’s why even NFL teams miss a whole lot and they have a lot fewer guys to worry about.


wde2003: How do you think the 2017 OL and DL will perform compared to 2016. Better, about the same, a step back...?

That’ i still to be determined, but I think the talent is there to be just as good or maybe even better. On defense I think there are more options to get to the quarterback off the edge. You don’t have one guy like Carl Lawson, but maybe you have three or four who could give you three or four sacks. That would be a step up. In the middle Derrick Brown is as big and talented as anyone I have seen at Auburn. If he can get mean enough and learn to take over a game the sky is the limit for him and the defensive line.

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