Finally, the Auburn community gets to see first-hand head coach Gus Malzahn’s new version of the Tigers at this Saturday’s A-Day scrimmage in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
With the thirst for the first sips of a fresh football start on the Plains and the final rolling of the Auburn Oaks, Saturday figures to be emotionally-energized, a New Day in more ways than one.
The Tigers will have two more practice days remaining after A-Day. Malzahn wanted time to assess the spring’s climactic scrimmage rather than end with it, but A-Day is no doubt the most important checkpoint to date.
Set up to be the closest thing to an actual game, it’s a stress test of sorts for players who have been shocked into a completely new system this spring. Complete depth charts or any kind of concrete decisions may not emerge from Saturday’s proceedings, but that doesn’t mean we can’t expect to get a slightly-clearer view of what Auburn might look like on the horizon.
It also doesn’t mean we’ll know much of anything real with, oh, around four and a half months until kickoff against Washington State.
So what should we be looking for at A-Day?
The first item has been driven home basically since the day Malzahn was hired: Speed. No-huddle. Up-tempo. Fast-breaking. However you want to say it, Auburn should look noticeably different in their pace and urgency between plays.
Everything else starts from that place, and while the Tigers may have started the spring by hopping onto a full-speed treadmill, they’ve had time to get their legs under them, to varying degrees, up to the present.
The speed factor, though, is most effective if it’s done with precise movements and sharp synergy. It will be interesting to see how Auburn looks on both sides of the ball—if the Tigers are moving cohesively or not. If they appear to be going in the same direction at the same time. This naturally puts the quarterbacks competing for the starting spot right now, Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace, as well as their respective command of the offense, directly under the microscope.
Neither Frazier nor Wallace has pushed ahead of the other this spring and A-Day is the chance to lead the offense during a game-like scrimmage. We should note again that a starting quarterback probably won’t be named regardless of what happens on Saturday, but there is no better time to leave a lasting image for these quarterbacks, either.
Malzahn mentioned recently that it is difficult for a quarterback to look great in this system without the rest of the unit, from wide receivers to offensive linemen, operating at the same level. And it is the play of Auburn’s receivers on A-Day that could bring the best out of the quarterbacks.
Whomever best exemplifies quickness and smarts in lining up, accurate routes and a tendency towards big plays down the field, not to mention blocking for an emerging Corey Grant and the equally-important running game, could best position themselves for more playing time once fall rolls around.
Whether it’s upperclassmen like Trovon Reed, Quan Bray, Jaylon Denson, younger guys like Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis or tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse, everyone is basically competing to first help their coaches find their best fit on the field, then to prove they belong on it the most.
It’s different this season because of the intricacy of the new offense and the Tigers’ urgent need for someone who can get open and deliver critical receptions. And they need to do this while skating on the slick ice that coats Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s downhill scheme. Because of all that, it’s an open race up the depth chart for now.
The defense, on the other hand, wants to make things go less according to schedule for their offensive counterparts. But more than that the pressure needs to translate into turnovers. Auburn has to be more disruptive this season; force offenses into situations where mistakes can and do get exploited.
On A-Day, turnovers are a category that should be tracked. That and the overall feel of the defense. Does it feel faster, more adaptable? Are players in the right positions or are their feet stuck from thinking too much?
The Tigers were simply too sterile defensively last season; that edge Malzahn and staff are hoping to bring back may be best seen if the defense can appear fluid in both their decisions and actions. This could take more than a spring to master and that’s to be expected. A visible foundation, though, should still be in place.
A-Day should generate plenty of excitement, introduce possible fall standouts—look for “Star” junior hybrid-defender Justin Garrett to turn his strong spring into serious buzz—and raise more questions about the 2013 Tigers.
It’s not the release of Auburn’s finished football product; it’s a first, amplified, glimpse at what’s to come. Take it for what it is: a scrimmage. A not-real football game between teammates with some potentially very real consequences that could linger all the way towards who’s starting on Saturday, Aug. 31, against the Cougars. There will also be other not-so-crucial developments. It’s a scrimmage, and those can only be so telling.
If Malzahn’s Tigers leave the public with enough to talk about for the summer (and we can’t see that being a problem), show positive signs of turning into the team they aren’t yet and avoid major injuries, it’s a good day.
For Auburn collectively, it could be about nothing more than enjoying a day of football again, and all that will come with it this Saturday.