The patience has worn thin among Auburn fans. That SEC championship run in 2013 feels like forever ago, and after a 7-6 finish last season, Gus Malzahn is starting to feel the heat as he enters Year 4 with the Tigers.
This spring might not have answered many questions, but it was a stepping stone for Auburn on its quest to turn the ship around. Here’s what we learned.
What we learned about the offense: Auburn still doesn’t have a solution at quarterback. That was the biggest position battle coming into the spring, and now that spring is over, it feels like we’re in the same place we were before. Based on the spring game, Sean White would be the favorite. He looked the most comfortable, and the stats reflected that. But don’t count out junior-college transfer John Franklin III or last year’s opening-day starter, Jeremy Johnson. This race is far from over. Elsewhere, Jovon Robinson seems to have taken the lead in what will be a crowded but talented backfield in 2016. And it will be worth watching to see if Austin Golson’s move from center to left tackle sticks when fall camp begins.
What we learned about the defense: If there was a silver lining to Auburn’s offensive struggles in the spring game, it could be that the defense looked much-improved from a year ago. Finally healthy, Carl Lawson went through his first spring practice. He and Montravius Adams form one of the better defensive-line duos in the SEC, and the emergence of true freshman Marlon Davidson makes that group even better. The linebacking corps is led by Tre Williams, but Darrell Williams and Deshaun Davis also made an impression this spring. And keep an eye on Ohio State transfer Jamel Dean, who could end up starting at cornerback.
Breakout player: It has to be Dean. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound cornerback signed with Ohio State in February 2014. But after he was medically disqualified by the Buckeyes, he transferred to Auburn, where he had to sit out last season because of NCAA rules. Now he finally has his shot, and he’s making the most of it. Dean worked his way up the Tigers' depth chart and was playing with the first-team defense in the spring game. “He had a really good spring,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “The last four or five days, he really made a leap.”
Key storyline: It was the quarterbacks until four players -- Carlton Davis, Byron Cowart, Jeremiah Dinson and Ryan Davis -- were arrested on misdemeanor marijuana charges earlier this month. Carlton Davis is expected to be the team’s No. 1 cornerback after a breakout freshman debut. Cowart, a former No. 1 recruit in the ESPN 300, is hoping to improve on a lackluster first season at Auburn. And both Dinson and Ryan Davis contributed as true freshmen last season. To this point, Malzahn has remained mum on the situation. But whatever disciplinary action is taken will be significant, especially with Auburn facing Clemson in the first game of the season.