War Eagle Extra

Mailbag: Quarterback concerns, void at linebacker and NFL Draft

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn quarterback Sean White (13) throws a pass during warmups before an NCAA football game against Georgia, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn quarterback Sean White (13) throws a pass during warmups before an NCAA football game against Georgia, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Auburn, Ala. AP Photo

Auburn fans came through.

We asked for questions this week for the first edition of the War Eagle Extra Mailbag on our Twitter and Facebook pages and readers came through with a strong list of football related questions.

The string of responses might have a little something to do with all the uncertainty surrounding the program coming off a challenging 2015 season.

Auburn's struggles left plenty of unanswered questions for everyone to ponder.

For readers that submitted questions on social media, but don’t see theirs queries included this week – all is not lost. I’ve saved a few questions about new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and Auburn’s recruiting targets for next week.

To this week’s questions:

Q: Could Sean White be a star if Malzahn developed him and formed the offense around him? (@AuSuperFanatic)

Answer — Quarterback Sean White had four starts before injuring his left knee late in the game against Arkansas. He started the following week against Ole Miss, but wasn’t 100 percent and his injury was worse when he tried to play in a backup role against Georgia.

When the freshman returned to the lineup for the Birmingham Bowl, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire with interceptions on back-to-back drives in the second quarter.

I think it would be unfair to rule White out as an option for Auburn next season based on the limited sample size of four and a half healthy starts.

Jeremy Johnson was getting the majority of the first team reps from the spring all the way until coach Gus Malzahn decided to make a switch in the third week of the season.

As a redshirt freshman, White did an admirable job of stepping into the job and quickly taking command of the offense. His confidence in the huddle helped make the transition between quarterbacks a smooth one.

Auburn’s production didn’t improve by leaps and bounds, but his strong arm and accuracy helped open things up for the offense.

I think White could competently run this offense if given the chance, but I’m less sure he has the potential to be a breakout ‘star’ like Nick Marshall.

Q: Have a list of players headed to draft? (@supertbo33)

Answer — Auburn offensive tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young are foregoing their senior seasons to enter the draft. Defensive lineman Carl Lawson has announced his intentions to come back.

The only player with eligibility left that Auburn is waiting to make a decision is defensive tackle Montravius Adams. Adams has until Jan. 18 to decide.

Auburn senior defensive backs Jonathan Jones, wide receiver Ricardo Louis, linebackers Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost and Justin Garrett all intend to pursue opportunities at the next level.

Jones is playing in the Senior Bowl while Frost accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game. The games will give both players chances to play in front of NFL scouts.

Q: Does Woody Barrett have a realistic shot to be the day one starter? Or develop him? (@Exxams)

Answer — I think all four quarterbacks will be given a chance to compete.

Barrett’s at a bit of a disadvantage considering he isn’t an early enrollee. The other quarterback in Auburn’s Class of 2016 John Franklin III will get a head start in the competition against Sean White and Jeremy Johnson this spring.

One advantage West Orange high school coach Bob Head said Barrett has in his corner is a clear size advantage. Franklin and Barrett are similar athletes, but the high school senior weighs in at 6-foot-2, 230-pounds.  

With size and athleticism to match, Barrett is the perfect fit on paper to run Malzahn’s run-play action scheme.

Q: How will linebackers play be with loss of Cass (McKinzy), (Kris) Frost, and (Justin) Garrett? (@Sheffield1022)

Answer — There’s no doubt it’s an area of concern going into next season.

When defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was disappointed with the production at the position midway through the season, young linebackers like Jeff Holland couldn’t crack the rotation.

Muschamp criticized the ability of Auburn’s linebackers to get off blocks and make plays. A back to basics approach and simplified game plan lead to improved production, but it wasn’t the underclassman leading the charge.

Of the returning linebackers, Tre’ Williams is a bright spot. He earned rave reviews from veterans on Auburn’s defense including two of the linebackers (Frost and Garrett) you mentioned.

Both seniors see Williams as an emerging leader and praised his improved play late in the season, but the junior to be can’t do it alone.

Q:  If you had to put an over-under on number of games Gus needs to win next year to keep his job? (@adneisler)

Answer — Athletic director Jay Jacobs has gone on record to say that “there’s no excuse” for finishing 6-6 at Auburn. His comment seems like a good indication of where the over-under is set.

The Tigers don’t have a favorable schedule next year with games against Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama all on the road. They are also the only team in the country that plays both teams that competed for the National Championship.

Auburn probably needs to get to eight wins while showing improvement in the SEC and settling on a quarterback.

If one of the young quarterbacks on the roster breaks out the Tigers administration would have little to gain changing coaching staffs.

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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