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Mailbag: Discussing Jeremy Johnson, Byron Cowart and uniforms

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Jeremy Johnson (6). 
 Birmingham Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. 
 Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics
Jeremy Johnson (6). Birmingham Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics

It was an unexpectedly wild week for Auburn football.

Running back Peyton Barber’s decision to declare for the NFL draft surprised the team and fans alike, athletic director Jay Jacobs discussed potential upgrades to Jordan-Hare Stadium and the coaching staff was on the road trying to shore up this year’s recruiting class.

Before anything else happens, lets jump into the mailbag and answer some reader questions:

Q: You think Jeremy Johnson will be benched next year or switched to WR? (@Only1KingTizzle)

Answer — It’s no surprise the quarterback position continues to be a significant focus for fans.

I don’t think Jeremy Johnson will go the Jonathan Wallace route and change positions. Johnson is intent on competing for the quarterback spot in the spring. It would leave him little time to learn a new position in fall camp.

As for the quarterback battle, the odds are stacking up against Johnson.

East Mississippi Community College assistant coach Clint Trickett might have said it best when talking about transfer John Franklin III’s chances in the spring.

“They don’t recruit junior college guys to be backups,” Trickett said.

Auburn’s coaching staff can’t miss for a second straight year at quarterback. Johnson will need to be far and away the best option and maybe even better than that. Coach Gus Malzahn had that kind of confidence in Johnson this past fall and it turned out to be misplaced.

Q: How does offensive line coach J.B. Grimes leaving impact OL recruits? (@Jballer30)

Answer — There’s been plenty of turnover on Auburn’s coaching staff this offseason with very little negative fallout.

Auburn had a significant number of early enrollees, nine, and hasn’t lost any of the other six verbal commits. The Tigers only have one verbal commit on the offensive line in Brodarious Hamm, who had a positive meeting introduction to Grimes’ replacement Herb Hand last week.

Coach Gus Malzahn lost a number of talented recruiters, but hired a group equally as capable with Hand, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff.

Q: Why did Shon Coleman turn down his Senior Bowl invite? (@BobbyofHomewood)

Answer — Coleman didn’t address the issue during an interview on The Cole Cubelic Show last week. It’s the only interview he’s done since declaring for the draft earlier this month.

The offensive tackle was banged up at the end of the season, so it’s possible he just wants to make sure he’s healthy for the NFL Combine. He also could be confident enough in his draft grade that he doesn’t see the need.

Q: Will the orange socks and shoes be banned? (@SurferChicify)

Answer — The all-orange socks and cleets look was part of a rotation of footwear Auburn used last year.

Players enjoyed the look debuted in the season-opener against Louisville while coach Malzahn didn’t have as high of an opinion on them. 

"I'm just going to say this — our players really like it OK," Malzahn said during a Tiger Talk appearance.

Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs has made his stance against alternate uniforms abundantly clear — hint: they aren’t happening — so small alterations and tweaks to the team’s Under Armour apparel are the only possible changes.

Players enjoy the alternate looks so while orange cleats might not make a come back for 2016 expect some variations to Auburn’s classic look.

Q: Do you think Byron Cowart will have a break out season? (@Exxams)

Answer — It’s now or never for Cowart.

The competition up front on the defensive line is only going to get more intense with a talented group of lineman coming in as part of Auburn’s 2016 class.

Cowart struggled early in the season adjusting to competition in the SEC, but craved out a niche for himself in the rotation. He played a consistent number of snaps throughout the regular season and pleased the coaching staff with his development.  

“I think his production has been really good,” former Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. “He's a true freshman in the Southeastern Conference. I think it's been really good, in my experience. I pulled him aside, I think it was Game Four, maybe Five, at that point of the season, from a true freshman standpoint, he played more snaps than Jon Bullard played. Jon was a really good player at Florida who is having a great year. He played more snaps than Jon did as a true freshman. Expectations are measured on different levels by different people. My expectations have been very good for what Byron has accomplished and where he is right now.”

The bottom line for Cowart is increasing his production. He finished the season with six tackles (one solo) and no sacks or tackles for a loss. He won’t be able to fall back on his inexperience number if his numbers don’t improve. 

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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