Marshall Column: A-Day A Time For Fun

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the A-Day game and a variety of subjects.

It was the spring of 1971. Auburn's football team figured to be a championship contender the following fall. Quarterback Pat Sullivan was the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

Auburn would, in fact, be a championship contender, winning its first nine games. And Sullivan would win the Heisman Trophy.

In the A-Day game at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Sullivan threw five interceptions.

In those days, there were no significant limits on spring practice. No one had even thought about putting a spring game on television. But even then, it was a big mistake to think that anything that happened on A-Day really meant much.

As Auburn prepares to play another A-Day game, it means less than ever. Because the game will be televised on a tape delayed basis, Auburn coaches aren't about to give prying eyes a look at anything that could be used against them. Many of the players who have already proved themselves on the field will spend most of the day watching. As Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said, if you want to see tailback Kenny Irons, you'd better get there early.

Even former coach Pat Dye, who took most everything seriously, liked to have fun with the A-Day game. In the spring of 1983, media members coached the teams. Sportscasters coached one team and sports writers coached the other. I "coached" tight ends on the writers' team. Bill Lumpkin, then sports editor of The Birmingham Post-Herald, was our "head coach." Phil Snow, then sports director at WSFA in Montgomery, was the opposing "head coach."

We had a pregame meeting with some of the real coaches. Running backs coach Bud Casey drew a pass play on the blackboard. "How many times you call this play just depends on how many times you want to score," Casey told us. "It'll score every time."

Midway through the first quarter, Lumpkin decided we should call our special play. Casey was right. It scored. Cornerback Jimmie Warren intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown.

As I recall, we had Bo Jackson on our team and the TV guys had Alan Evans. The only problem was that Bo hardly played at all (we didn't control that). I don't remember the score, but we lost and it wasn't close.

It was a fun day, which is what A-Day should be. Anyone who plans to evaluate Auburn's chances for having a big season based on anything that happens in today's game will be disappointed. …

Moving on …

He hasn't said it, but it seems first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is making moves to get more bulk to complement the speed Auburn already has at linebacker.

In recent seasons, Auburn linebackers have been very fast but not very big. As the Tigers finish spring practice, senior Kevin Sears, who weighs in at close to 240 pounds, has made noise at middle linebacker. Redshirt freshman Alonzo Horton has been moved from defensive end to linebacker. On top of that, in Muschamp's scheme, the weakside defensive end frequently plays like a linebacker.

One smallish linebacker who will certainly be on the field more often than not is redshirt freshman Tray Blackmon, nicknamed ‘The Little Ball of Hate." You don't have to watch Blackmon for long to see why he was one of the South's top prospects when he signed with Auburn out of LaGrange, Ga., in 2005. …

My guess is that senior Jonathan Palmer will end up being the starting right tackle next season. Palmer has been a loyal soldier, backing up numerous positions but never breaking into the starting lineup. Offensive line coach Hugh Nall says he has the talent and athleticism to play on Sundays for a long time.

Senior Jonathan Palmer has a chance to be a starter at tackle in 2006.

Junior Leon Hart, who came from Columbia, S.C., as one of the nation's top prospects, spent most of the spring working at right tackle but is working at right guard now. Even he doesn't start next season, Hart will be very valuable. If needed, he can play any position on the offensive line. Like Palmer, he might have to wait until his senior season to be an every-game starter. …

Maybe Southeastern Conference basketball wasn't so bad this season after all. Four SEC teams played Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and four teams won. Two more play today.

Anyone who thinks there isn't regional bias at work toward the SEC among national commentators isn't paying attention. Whether it's football or basketball, no conference is labeled "down" as quickly as the SEC. That regional bias certainly hurt Auburn's chances of playing for the football national championship in 2004. …

Until next time …

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