Auburn Team News

Auburn spring preview: Questions abound

Gus Malzahn

With a host of new assistants, Auburn will have a great deal to prove during spring practice, which begins Tuesday. Installation of the defense will be paramount; missed assignments will abound. On offense, there maybe are even more questions, mainly who will play?

This is probably the most wide-open spring practice there has been on The Plains in a long time. Few positions are safe and everyone’s job is up for grabs.

Priority One: Finding a quarterback. Auburn has plenty of questions to answer once it puts the pads on, but who will take snaps come August dwarfs them all. Look for JC transfer John Franklin III to make a splash in the spring. Auburn needs a commanding and effective signal-caller and will play whoever gets it done. There is no pride or heir apparent this season. If you move the ball, you’re the guy.

John Franklin III

John Franklin III, who began his career at Florida State before moving on to a junior college, is in the mix to be the starting quarterback. MELINA VASTOLA/USA TODAY SPORTS

Strongest position: Running back. The experience at the position means the backs barely edge out defensive line. There is intriguing youth on the defensive line, but potential does not mean success. The backs from a year ago will be stronger, smarter and more comfortable. While carrying the ball obviously will be critical, watch for who steps up in pass protection. Whoever starts at quarterback will need all the help he can get, and having a back in who is great pass protection may make all the difference.

Weakest position: Wide receiver — just touching out linebacker. All three linebackers from a year ago are gone, but Auburn didn’t focus on recruiting that position, which indicates coaches have some confidence there. Receiver, on the other hand, is a position with new faces and a new, young coach. This group absolutely must produce this fall. The top two targets from last year are gone and coach Gus Malzahn almost assuredly will be putting his offensive livelihood in some unproven hands. If this group struggles, the ensuing erosion of confidence could permeate throughout the offense and indeed the entire team.

Player most on the spot, offense: OT Robert Leff, possibly Darius James. One of these guys is expected to start at left tackle, and the pressure on that position in the 2016 campaign will be huge. New to the starting lineup, protecting a new quarterback in an offense that must produce, that must run the ball, that must protect the pocket – that’s a lot to ask. There is no learning curve, not this season, and whoever wins the job must be ready to step into the toughest trenches in college football on Day One. Leff is a senior who has started two games in his career. James is a sophomore transfer from Texas who sat out last season; he started two games for the Longhorns as a true freshman in 2014.

Player most on the spot, defense: LB Tre’ Williams. Auburn needs solid linebacker play and will turn to an entirely new group to get it. Williams has established himself as a vocal leader on defense and the Tigers need a commanding presence in the middle to complement Carl Lawson. Getting the defense aligned and adjusted is a huge job, especially in a new system, and that task now falls to Williams. Plus, he also has to play middle linebacker in the SEC. He needs a good spring to prove to his coaches and teammates that he’s the man for the job.

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