When Auburn first started recruiting Jarrett Stidham after he decided to leave Baylor the thought was that he had the potential to be a game-changing quarterback for the Tigers because of his ability to throw the football and also possessing enough running ability to make plays with his legs.
Saturday’s A-Day game showed everyone exactly why the Tigers could make a serious run at the College Football Playoff next season when you combine a potentially dynamic offense and what should be another solid defense.
First off, the arm talent is obvious as is Stidham’s ability to deliver the ball on target. With a history of using the RPO (run-pass-option) at the line of scrimmage, Stidham will force defenses to be more honest because of his ability to make teams pay for selling out to stop the run.
The second thing, and perhaps most important, is the attitude that Stidham brings to the entire team. Supremely confident in his ability to get the job done, his energy has been infectious in spring practice and there’s no doubt the rest of the team has followed suit.
Now it’s time to take a step back because as good as the first-team offense looked on Saturday it was against second and third team defenders. They still had to execute plays and having Kamryn Pettway to run the ball definitely makes the group stronger, but there is still a lot of room for improvement left for the wide receivers if the offense wants to put up huge numbers.
I can’t move to the defense without talking about true freshman quarterback Malik Willis.
It’s hard to be more impressed by an early graduate than I was with Willis on Saturday. The first drive was the probably the one that showed me the most potential for him. From scrambling out of harm’s way to throwing a strike down the middle to Ryan Davis, Willis wasn’t bothered at all by getting the first snaps of the game nor going against the first-team defense in doing so.
He’s still a long way from what he could be as a quarterback in this system, but there’s no question he made a great call in coming to Auburn instead of signing with Virginia Tech and playing defensive back.
Auburn’s No. 1 defense has shut down the passing game for much of the spring because of the job Carlton Davis and Javaris Davis have done at cornerback not letting guys off the line of scrimmage. That’s the area that Nate Craig, Darius Slayton, Elijah Stove, etc. have to improve between now and next fall. If they can become better at getting off press coverage the sky’s the limit for this Auburn offense.
On the other side of the ball the emergence of Paul James on Saturday was a great sign for the defense. While still admittedly “85 percent” back from his knee surgery, the end showed a burst and physical nature that could make him tough to keep off the field next season if he can bring that energy every day on the practice field.
The thing that jumped out to me the most about the defense was the improvement by both Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown from last season. While both were very good for true freshmen, they were much more physical and just overwhelmed blockers all day long on Saturday.
With Dontavius Russell, Andrew Williams and Byron Cowart all taking a step forward as well, Auburn’s two-deep at defensive tackle looks to be solid. If Antwuan Jackson can do the same the Tigers will have plenty of options available on the interior and that’s one of the most important things for a defense these days with offenses going faster and faster.
In the secondary I really like what Daniel Thomas has shown at the safety position and even more impressed by Mike Sherwood at the nickel. With cornerback skills and a nose for the football, Sherwood gives you another cover guy in the middle of the field and that’s a huge bonus. A potential enforcer, Thomas made a huge play on the goal line in the A-Day game and his hitting ability could bring more lumber to the Auburn secondary.