Auburn wasn’t quite able to recapture the magic from its 2013 run to the national championship, but coach Gus Malzahn’s second season still resulted in an 8-5 record with two losses coming by three points. As Malzahn’s team works through spring practice, it’s clear this team will be in the mix for the SEC West Division title. New quarterback Jeremy Johnson is a rising star, and there’s no shortage of talent at the skill positions. The defense should benefit significantly from the addition of Will Muschamp as coordinator.
5 Storylines to Watch in Auburn’s Spring Practice
1. Jeremy Johnson’s Time to Shine
Nick Marshall had a successful two-year stint as Auburn’s quarterback, but the offense shouldn’t miss a beat with Jeremy Johnson under center. The junior has two career starts under his belt and passed for 436 yards and three scores in seven appearances in 2014. Johnson isn’t as mobile as Marshall, but coach Gus Malzahn will tweak the offense to fit his strengths. This spring is Johnson’s first to work as the starter.
2. New Faces on the Offensive Line
The Tigers must replace two starters on the line, including standout center Reese Dismukes. While Dismukes won’t be easy to replace, this unit does return left tackle Shon Coleman and promising sophomore Braden Smith, while guard Alex Kozan is expected to return from a back injury that sidelined him all of 2014. Ole Miss transfer Austin Golson could factor into the mix to replace Dismukes at center. This spring is all about finding the right players at the right positions.
3. Restocking the Skill Players
Talent is plentiful at the running back and receiver positions, but new faces must emerge to keep the offense performing at a high level in 2015. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are gone at running back, which leaves junior college recruit Jovon Robinson, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber as the team’s top three options. At receiver, Sammie Coates and Quan Bray depart, but Duke Williams turned down the NFL for one more year at Auburn. In addition to Williams, the Tigers will ask more of Marcus Davis, Ricardo Louis and redshirt freshman Stanton Truitt.
4. Getting Comfortable With the New Defense
After giving up over six yards per play in SEC contests in each of the last two years, Malzahn decided it was time for a change at coordinator. And Malzahn made one of the offseason’s top hires by landing former Florida coach Will Muschamp to call the defensive signals in 2015. Muschamp should bring immediate improvement to this unit and will have help with the return of end Carl Lawson from an ACL injury. How quickly will the players pickup and adapt to the new scheme?
5. Solidify the Secondary
The pass defense had its share of issues over the last two seasons, and this unit enters spring practice with holes to fill. Cornerback Jonathon Mincy and safeties Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie must be replaced. Talent certainly isn’t an issue here, as Jonathan Jones is back at cornerback after a breakout season, and Georgia transfer Tray Matthews should help at safety. Joshua Holsey may claim the other starting cornerback spot, and Muschamp has options to fill the void left behind at safety. This unit isn’t necessarily a major concern for 2015, but it’s critical to establish a pecking order or begin to sift through the options.
Pre-Spring Outlook on Auburn in the SEC:
After a run to the national championship in 2013, the Tigers took a step back and finished just 4-4 in SEC play last season. However, this team will be one to watch in 2015. Auburn has all of the necessary pieces to make a run at the SEC title, especially if quarterback Jeremy Johnson performs as expected. The defense has been an issue over the last two years, but the addition of Muschamp will pay dividends. With Alabama visiting Auburn, it’s not out of the question to think the Iron Bowl could decide the SEC West champion in 2015.