Auburn Football: Three Things to Watch This Spring

Here we discuss three things to watch from Auburn football in the spring, and how they might the coming 2017 season.

With signing day for recruits now behind us, it’s time to start thinking about Auburn football practice in the spring, which begins on Feb. 28, and the A-Day game, which will be on April 8.

Auburn football finished the 2016 season on a down note, with three losses in its last four games. So it’s important to change the malaise that lingers from those games during the next two months to set the tone for the 2017 season.

With the first game against Georgia Southern on Sept. 2, the Tigers will have an opportunity to work on getting into game condition before the key showdown against Clemson on Sept. 9.

Here are three things to look at during the spring practices and the A-Day glorified practice.

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Nov 5, 2015; Manhattan, KS, USA; Baylor Bears quarterback Jarrett Stidham (3) runs with the ball against the Kansas State Wildcats during the first half at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

The connection between the quarterbacks and the wide receivers

We’d all agree that this was an issue in 2016, with Auburn’s passing yards finishing dead last in the SEC. While this was partly due to Auburn’s strong rushing game, an improvement in the passing game will open up holes for Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.

Most of the defenses that Auburn played in 2016 did not respect the passing game, and for good reason. So it’s key for Jarrett Stidham and Sean White to spend practice time development a better relationship with key wide receivers such as Kyle DavisEli Stove and Darius Slayton.

The 2017 signing class included junior college tight end Salvatore Cannella. He’s already on campus and taking classes and has Gronkowski-like size at 6-feet-6 and 230 pounds. Auburn will need to work the tight end more into the passing game.

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Jan 2, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham (left) and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Cactus Bowl at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey needs to develop a strategy

Auburn’s offense struggled at times last season, and many fans questions the play calling during several games, particularly against Clemson and Texas A&M. At the beginning of the season, coach Gus Malzahn was calling the plays, but he turned over those responsibilities to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who left after the season to go to UConn.

Enter Chip Lindsey as Auburn’s new offensive coordinator. After seasons at Southern Miss and Arizona State, Lindsey returns to the Tigers — he was an analyst for the team in 2013 — but all eyes will be on his play selection and whether he’s able to develop a rhythm.

That begins during winter practices. Lindsey needs to quickly understand what the offense can — and can’t — do and learn to make calls to play to the strengths of the players. Lindsey’s relationship with the quarterbacks will be key. That needs to develop now, if it hasn’t already.

Who will be the new leaders on defense?

The departures of Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams to the National Football League leaves a leadership void on the defensive side of the ball. Lawson and Adams were vocal leaders and backed that up with their performance. Lawson led the team in sacks, while Adams stuffed holes in the line with his massive size and quick speed.

The defense was the bright spot for the 8-5 Tigers and kept the team in many games when the offense was not putting points on the board. While there’s hope that the offense will score more points in 2017, the defense could be relied upon once again during close games.

There are several candidates for the leadership role, including senior Tray Matthews in the defensive backfield, defensive lineman Marlon Davidson and linebacker Deshaun Davis. But they’ll need to start stepping up during winter practice and letting their teammates know that they plan to hold them accountable on the field.

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