Second team offensive line struggles
The second team line showed room for improvement playing for the White Team Saturday at A-Day.
It didn’t help that the group including left tackle Darius James, left guard Marquel Harrell, center Kaleb Kim, right guard Mike Horton and right tackle Tyler Carr had to face the first team defense.
The line’s struggles contributed to the White Team’s lackluster performance.
One of the few times quarterback John Franklin III chose to run the ball came on the White Team’s second offensive possession.
Instead of hitting Griffin King for a short gain in the flat, Franklin pulled the ball down for a 3-yard run between the tackles.
James let Marlon Davidson blow right past him to give the play little chance of succeeding.
On the ensuing third down attempt, center Kaleb Kim and right guard Mike Horton failed to block Montravius Adams. Adams flushed Franklin out of the pocket and he was tackled for a loss of two going to the sideline.
There was a similar miscommunication on a third down attempt later in the quarter on a delayed handoff to C.J. Tolbert that went for no gain. The interior of the line allowed Adams to go unblocked again and Tolbert ran right into Adams’ arms.
Tackle Tyler Carr had a rough stretch late in the quarter. He allowed Carl Lawson to sack quarterback Sean White for a loss of nine yards then whiffed on John Broussard Jr. on the next play as the White Team tried to set up a screen.
The position battle on Auburn’s offensive line has shifted from finding replacements for tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young to figuring out who are the team’s top reserves in case of injury.
“You have to have eight or nine guys you can really count on the offensive line at a minimum to play in this league and be successful,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said last week.
Third down woes
The standout stat from A-Day was the offense going 1 for 22 on third downs. The stat becomes more worrisome when examining how the offense did on third and short situations.
Auburn faced a third and short (one to three yards) six times during the spring game and failed to convert a single one.
The Tigers ran the ball five times in short yardage situations and averaged negative yardage. The offense managed to gain positive yardage only one time.
Running the ball effectively in those same situations was a major issue for the offense last year.
Auburn averaged 2.92 yards per carry on 51 attempts. They converted for a first down 60 percent of the time (31 first downs).
Both numbers were down significantly from previous years.
In 2014, Auburn averaged 4.04 yards under the same circumstances converting a first down 71 percent of the times (35 of 49).
The effectiveness in third and short situations back in 2013 was off the charts with Auburn averaging 8.28 yards per carry and converting for first downs 78 percent of the time.
Slotting in at receiver
Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson’s first completion was to running back Roc Thomas. Thomas lined up in the slot on the play. He caught a touchdown pass from the same spot early in the second half.
Thomas was fourth on the team in receiving yards with 11 catches for 200 yards with a touchdown. His 18.18 yards per catch was second behind only Jovon Robinson, but Robinson only caught one pass last season.
If Auburn decides to let Robinson be its primary back, Thomas might be featured more heavily in the passing game.
The move would make sense with last year’s fullbacks Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox getting extended auditions as backup tailbacks this spring.
“I think that will give our offense a little more versatility next year if we let those two carry it with Jovon (Robinson),” Malzahn said. “Roc Thomas is a guy that played a little bit of slot receiver. You saw a little bit of that on the touchdown and then he’s also playing some running back.”
Linebacker Tre Williams was projected as a starter for Auburn in 2016 from the moment the 2015 season ended. The question of who would line up next to him was open to debate.
Darrell Williams tried to end the discussion with a strong A-Day performance. He tied his fellow linebacker with a game-high six tackles and had a sack playing with the first team defense.
The SEC Network’s broadcast team noted Williams’ play early in the first quarter when he brought down wide receiver Griffin King on a screen pass.
“A nice read and react by Darrell Williams that time,” analyst Matt Stinchcomb said.
It wasn’t the last time Williams name was brought up as the Hoover alum from Alabama made a number of plays at the line of scrimmage.
“Darrell, he’s stepped up to that next level and I love it,” Tre Williams said. “Last year he was kind of struggling in some places and you can tell he’s been working. It showed out there today.”