It’s time for spring football at Auburn. Bryan Harsin begins his second season as the Tigers head coach after several players left the program via graduation or transfer portal.
Quarterback Bo Nix going to Oregon leaves a hole at the most critical position on the gridiron. Replacing a starting quarterback is hard enough without concerns about receiver depth and offensive line. The Tigers also have to replicate the production of All-American cornerback Roger McCreary.
Spring football commencing on Monday won’t answer all of the questions surrounding a team attempting to rebound from a season-ending five-game losing streak. Oh, and don’t forget the inquiry into the program by the university that created an embarrassing public spectacle.
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Harsin will have chances to glean insight on his team heading into a new season. Let’s look at some position battles on the Auburn football team, starting spring football soon.
TJ Finley inspired confidence in the comeback win against Georgia State last season at Jordan-Hare. He also struggled with accuracy once he took over as QB after Nix got injured in the Mississippi State game. Finley completed less than 55% of passes and had 827 yards with six touchdowns to one interception.
Finley will enter spring as the incumbent starter. Zach Calzada, Dematrius Davis, Robby Ashford, and Holden Geriner are looking to push past Finley for the Auburn starting quarterback role.
Calzada had 2,185 yards, 17 touchdowns, and nine interceptions in 10 games last season at Texas A & M. The former Aggie led his squad to a win against Alabama last year by throwing for three touchdowns and 285 yards against the Tide.
Davis didn’t see any game action last season. The former four-star recruit from Texas is equally adept as a runner and a thrower. Perhaps Davis can push for first-team reps in spring.
Ashford is a Hoover alum who transferred to Auburn from Oregon. He didn’t play in any games for the Ducks during two seasons. However, he was one of the top prep QBs in Alabama before going west.
Geriner is a freshman from South Georgia. He led his team to a state title while throwing for nearly 3,400 yards and 36 touchdowns. He enrolled early so he could practice with the team. He’ll have an opportunity to become the starter even though he’s a freshman.
2. Wide Receiver
Shedrick Jackson is the most experienced returning receiver. Last season he racked up a team-high 527 yards and caught a touchdown. He’s a respected leader in the locker room and on the field.
Ja’Varrius Johnson possibly could participate in spring football. He’s still taking classes at Auburn, but his name remains in the portal. Johnson potentially returning would be great for Harsin’s team. He had 19 receptions and caught two touchdowns last season.
Auburn lost several wideouts to the portal or graduation. Kobe Hudson, Demetris Robertson, Elijah Canion, and Caylin Newton are gone. Juniors Ze’Vian Capers and Malcolm Johnson Jr. could benefit from a less crowded receiver room.
Capers had six catches in 10 games last season. Johnson Jr. caught a touchdown and had 82 yards on six catches last year for the Tigers.
Redshirt freshman Tar’Varish Dawson and true freshman Jay Fair have opportunities to push for more reps with a solid spring session.
3. Offensive Line
Center Nick Brahms, left tackle Austin Troxell, Left guard Brandon Council and Right guard Keiondre Jones are back from last season’s starting lineup. Having four of the five members of an offensive around is valuable. However, the unit suffered injuries and, at times, didn’t provide enough protection for passing or opening lanes for runningbacks.
If Brahms, Troxell, Council, and Jones are healthy and engaged, there’s a strong chance the Tigers could improve on last year’s 6-7 record. The Tigers have to replace Brodarious Hamm at right tackle. Kilian Zierer started in Hamm’s place in the Birmingham Bowl loss against Houston.
Zierer will compete with Brenden Coffey for the starting spot. Alec Jackson has served as a backup at both tackle positions and an interior lineman. Jalil Irwin started in place of Brahms at center last season. Irwin can play several functions on the line.
Jeremiah Wright started at Auburn as an offensive lineman and converted to the defensive line. He’s back at the offensive line and could play either guard position. Wright is also returning from an ACL injury that caused him to miss the entire season.
Auburn might hit the portal to fill out the room once camp ends.
Derick Hall is not only one of the proudest members of Auburn’s famed student section at basketball games, but he’s also returning second-team All-SEC edge rusher. He posted a team-leading nine sacks last season.
Eku Leota was second on the squad with seven sacks and second with 10 tackles for loss. Leota and Hall are a solid duo at an impactful position. Dylan Brooks could work his way up the depth chart. Brooks didn’t get on the field last season, but the sophomore has shown promise. A good spring could go a long way toward Brooks getting more reps.
Nehemiah Pritchett had 27 tackles, five pass deflections, and an interception last season at Auburn. He is the most experienced returning cornerback with eight starts in his junior year.
Jaylin Simpson played in 11 games last season and started in four. He intercepted one pass, broke up three passes, and racked up 27 tackles. Simpson and Pritchett could be starters at corner. Ro Torrence is another returning Tiger hoping to work his way into more playing time.
Oregon transfer DJ James, JUCO transfer Keionte Scott and early-enrollee JD Rhym will push Pritchett, Simpson, and Torrence for reps with the starting defense. Auburn will miss McCreary, but there’s a lot of talent for defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding to choose from for a starting lineup.
Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.