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What to Watch For at A-Day 2024

Hugh Freeze and the Auburn Tigers experienced more lows than highs in Freeze’s first year as head coach on The Plains. The Tigers finished 6-7 and took a drubbing at home to the lesser New Mexico State. But a lot has changed for this Auburn team since the end of last season, and there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic that Hugh and Auburn can make the year two jump that so many great coaches and programs have had in recent history. Some of those reasons may present themselves Saturday when Auburn wraps up spring practices with its annual A-Day game. 

The Quarterback Position

I know, I know. It is the easiest and most obvious answer to the “what to watch” question. This is the last bit of pseudo competitive football we will get until August, and the only visual assessment we will be able to make for months. Of course we are going to watch the quarterbacks. I recognize it is low hanging fruit, but it is what it is. If Auburn is to make a major jump next season, they will have to have significantly improved play from the quarterback spot.

Payton Thorne returns as the incumbent starter after a lackluster first year as the Tigers’ QB in which he had his ups and downs, but struggled mightily with consistency, throwing for only 1,755 yards, and 16 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. That won’t excite the majority of Auburn fans, but Thorne does sport his fair share of college snaps and wins. And reports out of this spring camp have been positive. And this is his first spring and full offseason as an Auburn Tiger. Perhaps this full offseason, a second year in Hugh Freeze’s system, and an improved receiver room (more on that in a moment) will lead to more consistency from Thorne. 

Thorne came into spring as the undisputed starter, and Hugh had made as much clear with the lack of aggression in the transfer portal at the position. And Hugh reiterated that sentiment this week saying that Thorne will remain in the lead position heading into fall camp. But he also said that the gap isn’t that large between Thorne and his challengers. So, it looks like the real fun question of spring regarding QBs is who is pushing Thorne in that number two spot?

Returning sophomore Holden Geriner held the third spot behind Thorne and Robby Ashford last season, but was outshined by returning redshirt freshman Hank Brown in the blowout loss to Maryland. The other contender for the job would be four star recruit and early enrollee Walker White out of Little Rock, Arkansas. But whereas Geriner and Brown have received their respective positive spring reviews, Freeze has already implied that Walker is headed for a redshirt year as the head coach expects Thorne, Geriner, and Brown to eat up the snaps in fall camp. Things could always change in a hurry, and I anticipate we will see a healthy dose of all four QBs Saturday.

Wide Receivers/Pass Catchers

If there is a group that will be watched and scrutinized harder than the quarterback position, it is the new and improved receiver corps. This position group has left a lot to be desired over the past few seasons. And other than the emergence of tight end Rivaldo Fairweather there hasn’t been much excitement in the pass catcher area. Until this offseason. Auburn added a group of freshmen some have touted as one of the best receiver classes in recent history, led by early enrollee, five star recruit, and spring darling Cam Coleman. 

Coleman, currently listed at 6’3 188 lbs is said to look even bigger than his listed numbers, and has been seen running with the one group. Freeze called the freshman “a different cat”, and said that he would have to play this season. The hype surrounding Coleman alone is enough to tune in for A-Day, but he’ll also be joined by his fellow newcomers in four star recruit Bryce Cain, and transfers Robert Lewis and Sam Jackson V. All of the new pass catchers (keep an eye out for Maryland transfer Rico Walker at the tight end position) should have a chance to flash Saturday as returning receivers Koy Moore, Camden Brown, Jay Fair, and Caleb Burton III have been beat up during spring. It would not shock me if we get a good look at all the new kids during A-Day.

An Improved O-Line?

Auburn must replace four starters on the offensive line, but that is not necessarily a problem, as many expect the Tigers to actually be improved at the line of scrimmage this year. The 6’8 345 lb transfer from Mississippi State, Percy Lewis looks to slot in at left tackle, which will allow last year’s starter Dillon Wade to bump to left guard, which ensures there will be snaps and experience on the left side of the line.  

Jeremiah Wright has been another spring darling, and is self admittedly finally healthy, and he should help anchor the right side of the line. And Hugh Freeze has pegged the guard as a player that has “flipped a switch” this spring. I don’t know what exactly we should expect to take away from the o-line Saturday, but there should at least be some new faces with a lot to prove.

A New Secondary

The secondary has often been a source of pride for the Auburn Tigers, and this year was no different. Auburn will be forced to replace four of five starters this fall. Jaylin Simpson, Zion Puckett, D.J. Jones, and Nehemiah Pritchett are all leaving for the NFL. And that is a tough blow for the Tigers as that is both starting safeties and corners leaving, and taking a lot of snaps and production with them as they go.

But the impact may not go as deep as you would expect. Many of the reports out of camp have been glowing, especially from the head guy. Tuesday, Hugh Freeze mentioned the defensive back group specifically as having had “the most noticeable improvement” of the Spring. 

Keionte Scott returns for his senior season, and should lock up one of the vacated corner positions. But the options to fill the other positions are plentiful after Freeze and Auburn have had recent success in adding to the secondary through recruiting and the transfer portal. Names to keep an eye on this weekend include redshirt freshman Sylvester Smith and Texas transfer Jerrin Thompson, as they battle for one of the open safety spots, Kayin Lee who started four games as a true freshman last season, and third year Caleb Wooden who looks to solidify himself as a full time starter at safety. 

Freeze had plenty of praise to go around for all of the individuals in this group, and Auburn should expect to have youth, physical talent, and depth heading into 2024. 

*Honorable Mention*

Honorable mention to the new coordinators. Realistically we won’t get to see many fireworks that are indicative of the impact of the new coaches. But the change from Montgomery and Roberts to Freeze/Nix and Durkin/Kelly is worth noting.

There are a lot of positives to peep in on for A-Day. Game kicks at 1:00 P.M. Central on Saturday.

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1 comment

Cody 04/05/2024 at 5:04 pm

All you can do is be optimistic. This Auburn team has potential.


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