War Eagle Extra

Auburn gets back to ‘real’ football Saturday with first scrimmage

Auburn players will be back in pads Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first spring scrimmage this year.
Auburn players will be back in pads Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first spring scrimmage this year. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn’s scrimmage Saturday morning at Jordan-Hare Stadium might be “pretty basic,” but playing real football for the first time this spring will give coach Gus Malzahn the best look yet at his 2017 roster.

“You have situational things in spring and you’re evaluating,” Malzahn said. “You’re rotating a bunch of guys. The scrimmage, that’s when it’s real football. A lot of times guys react differently in those situations.”

The practice, the team’s eighth of the spring, is a big test for Auburn’s redshirt freshmen and early enrollees, but Malzahn isn’t limiting his focus to the team’s inexperienced underclassmen.

“It’s not just the young guys, seeing who can possibly help,” Malzahn said. “Even those older guys. We’ve challenged our guys that are returning starters to take that next step. Take that next step to be an impact player.”

The easiest way for Auburn to improve on last year’s 8-5 record is for its best players — Malzahn referenced the team’s top running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson — to improve.

“That’s the challenge I gave the whole bunch, offensively and defensively and special teams. No one has arrived,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to all take that next step. They’re working hard at it.”

Saturday’s scrimmage will also be the next step in the team’s quarterback battle, a competition that dropped from six to four players this week when Tyler Queen announced he was transferring and John Franklin III moved to wide receiver full-time.

“I know Chip has a good plan for rotating the guys as far as that goes,” Malzahn said. “Obviously, it’s easier to evaluate the smaller the number.”

While last year’s starter Sean White steadily is adding to his workload, he won’t participate in the scrimmage.

Malzahn wouldn’t say if the quarterbacks would go live along with the rest of their teammates.

“Me and Chip will talk about it, probably, as it gets closer,” Malzahn said. “We’ll see. I’m not going to rule out anything. We’ll just have to see.”

Malzahn had Auburn’s quarterback go live in a scrimmage midway through last spring camp. The 100-play scrimmage gave the coaching staff “good information” about each of the candidates (White, Franklin and Jeremy Johnson).

Auburn coaches hope Saturday’s scrimmage is similarly productive for this year’s group, which includes Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, Woody Barrett and Malik Willis.

“I think Chip is more interested in how they comprehend and how they react and who can stay calm in the pocket and who can do the progressions and who can protect the football,” Malzahn said. “I would say we’re not ready to really say any of them arrived or not arrived, it’s more of just the process of spring.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra