Auburn enters spring with healing Stidham, tailback battle

March 1, 2018

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Auburn opens spring practice with competition at running back and a recuperating Jarrett Stidham.

The Tigers quarterback will be limited in the early part of spring practice, which opened Thursday, while still recovering from left shoulder surgery. He's out of the sling but isn't expected to throw before the team returns from spring break following the first four practices.

''We expect him to be able to come back and throw once we get back from spring break in the second half.'' Malzahn, who signed a new seven-year, $49 million deal , said. ''We'll just kind of see where that goes.''

Unlike some past seasons under Malzahn, the Tigers enter the spring with no question about who's the starting quarterback after Stidham led them to the Southeastern Conference Western Division title . The backfield battle to watch will come at tailback, where Auburn must replace SEC offensive player of the year Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway. Both skipped their final seasons to enter the NFL draft.

That leaves returning reserves Kam Martin, Malik Miller and Devan Barrett with some experience. Signee Asa Martin, Alabama's high school player of the year, enrolled in January and is trying to work his way up the depth chart.

''That'll be a big key for this spring,'' Malzahn said. ''That group will probably get tackled more than we have in the past. That will be by design to make sure we leave spring with some kind of depth chart and some kind of order.''

At quarterback, Stidham's early limitation does come with a silver lining for offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. It gives sophomore backup Malik Willis and January enrollee Joey Gatewood extra snaps with some tutoring from Stidham in the first few days.

''It'll give a chance for Malik to feel what it feels like with that first group and everything that goes with it,'' Malzahn said. ''And Joey, a guy coming in, get him more reps than maybe you normally would in this situation, especially the first four days.

''That's when you're really putting the foundation - offense, defense, special teams - in. So he's getting a real look.''

Here are some things to know about Auburn this spring:

-Junior college defensive end signee Daquan Newkirk tore an Achilles tendon on Wednesday but is expected to be available for fall camp,'' Malzahn said.

-Wide receiver Ryan Davis had a ''minor shoulder procedure'' but is expected to be full-go after the break. Said Malzahn: ''This is probably the healthiest we've been going into spring.''

-Wide receiver Noah Igbinoghene, who mostly returned kicks as a freshman, will also spend time at cornerback during the spring. Malzahn said he could play both ways next season if he does well at corner, where Auburn must replace early draft entry Carlton Davis .

"We really feel like he's got a special talent,'' the coach said. ''We were very impressed with him last year in special teams and just want to make sure that he has the best chance to be on the field.''

-Running backs coach Tim Horton will also serve as recruiting coordinator. Tight ends/H-backs coach Larry Porter, who held those duties last year, will swap with Horton and work with special teams. New assistant Marcus Woodson will coach cornerbacks and Greg Brown will work with safeties.


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