War Eagle Extra

Ryan Black commentary: Auburn spring football can't arrive soon enough

AUBURN, Ala. — By this time next week, Auburn will have two of its spring practice sessions in the books.

And for that, we should all be thankful. Because that means there will actually be real football topics to discuss.

How will the reps at running back be split between rising sophomore Roc Thomas and junior college transfer Jovon Robinson? Short of an injury to Jeremy Johnson, can Sean White do anything to supplant his upperclassman teammate at quarterback? How about finding a complement to D'haquille Williams at receiver now that Sammie Coates is heading to the NFL? Defensively, of course, the questions are even more numerous given the arrival of a new coordinator (Will Muschamp) and a pair of new position coaches (Travaris Robinson and Lance Thompson).

Isn't it always better for on-field topics to take precedence?

For now, we still have a few more days of filler. That's where the recent kerfuffle surrounding a proposed rule change about offensive linemen downfield comes into play. Last month, the NCAA Football Rules Committee pushed through a proposal that would cut how far offensive linemen would be permitted to move downfield on pass plays, going from 3 yards to 1.

At Auburn's Pro Day earlier this week, Gus Malzahn was asked for his thoughts on the matter.

As one would expect from a coach who loves innovation, he wasn't thrilled.

"That's part of the creativity of the game and that's been a rule that's been in place for a while, and you see a lot of offenses utilizing that. My whole deal is just make it a point of emphasis to start calling it if guys are downfield," he said. "But I'm not into anything that takes the creativity out of the game. You know, you see a lot of coaches around the country, specifically high school coaches that are coaching in college, that's very important to them."

If you feel like you've heard a similar type of response from Malzahn before, it's because you have.

At almost this exact time last year — post-national signing day, pre-spring practice — college football was fixated on another proposal from the rules committee. It centered around the possibility of allowing defenses to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock. If offenses snapped during those 10 seconds, the proposal called for a flag to be thrown for delay of game. The chairman of the rules committee, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, said the recommendation stemmed from concerns hurry-up, no-huddle offenses — which Auburn and many other teams around the country use — could be a health concern to defensive players.

Of course, Malzahn took offense (pardon the pun) to this notion.

"The fact (is) that there’s zero evidence, documented evidence, that it is hazardous on the pace of play, only opinions," he said.

But before the proposal made it to the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel — which had the power to turn the proposal into a rule — it was tabled, as NCAA national coordinator of officials Rogers Redding cited the need to "gather more information from the medical community and allow time for a broader discussion for the implications of that change."

Yet here we are again, one year later, once more debating the merits of another proposed alteration that would stifle offensive imagination.

It's rather ridiculous. It's far more fascinating to ponder who fills the void at center for Auburn now that four-year starter (and Rimington Award winner, mind you) Reese Dismukes is gone. Or how left guard Alex Kozan will work back into the mix after sitting out last season, which came on the heels of a freshman All-America selection in 2013. But they won't be mere musings much longer.

Once Tuesday rolls around, the Tigers will return to the field for the first time since New Year's Day.

And with that, we'll finally have the opportunity to start answering some of these questions.

Sure beats deliberating rule changes that may never take effect.