War Eagle Extra

A-Day Preview: Players to watch

Auburn defensive lineman Marlon Davidson waits for his turn during drills at practice on Tuesday, March 8, 2016.
Auburn defensive lineman Marlon Davidson waits for his turn during drills at practice on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn holds its annual A-Day exhibition game Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The format of the game will be similar to years past with the roster split up into two teams.

Last week, coach Gus Malzahn said he expects to run more than 100 plays in the game. Coaches will hand out MVP awards to the top offensive, defensive and specialty players.

Fans are eager to see the program’s many new faces and how the team responds following a second straight disappointing season.

Here are the players to watch….

John Franklin III

A no-brainer. Auburn has allowed the media to watch Franklin take a handful of snaps this spring, but those limited sessions revealed very little — he didn’t attempt a pass of more than five yards and only carried the ball once.

The quarterback battle won’t be decided Saturday, but Franklin’s performance under pressure will show whether the junior college transfer is a legit contender or not. Fans are clamoring to see the speed Franklin’s coaches and teammates have raved about this spring.

“You always want to know—when there’s 40-, 50-, 60-, 70,000, whatever’s going to be there—how guys react in the most game-like situation we’re going to get to before we play, with the exception of the live part,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “Are they the same guy? Do their eyes get really big and wide? Are they the same guy that they are all the time?”

Marlon Davidson

It’s no accident that the defensive tackle has been taking reps with the first team defense in recent weeks. The 4-star defensive end out of Greenville High School in Alabama has turned heads as one of the team’s nine early enrollees.

“He is a guy that's very physically, mentally and emotionally mature for a guy that should be going to his senior prom in the next week or so,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “If you'd watched it and didn't know, you'd think he'd been around for a couple of years and that's the biggest thing.”

For a defense desperate for more pass rushers, Davidson has established himself as a name to watch as the spring wraps up.

Carl Lawson

Lawson is ready for his first A-Day. Injuries have cost Lawson much of the past two seasons including the experience of playing in Auburn’s annual spring game.

“It tripped me out,” Lawson said. “I can’t get one? But this year.”

Lawson made the coaching staff promise they wouldn’t hold him back if he came back for one more season and the defensive lineman is excited to play full-go Saturday for fans.

The game will be only the second time in as many years Lawson is playing in front of a crowd fully healthy. Earlier this spring, Lawson admitted he wasn’t at 100 percent when he returned from the cracked hip that cost him two months of the season. A solid A-Day performance could be a sign of things to come for one of Auburn’s true impact players.

Austin Golson

Auburn’s starting center last year is shifting a few spots to his left. Golson spent the early portion of spring practice snapping the ball, but now is the heir apparent to a pair of NFL-level talents.

“Austin is settling in at tackle,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “You know, he’s also had some reps at center, but he’s starting to feel more and more comfortable. It takes a while out there on the edge and blocking our defensive ends has been very good for him to see the pass rush and all the games people play. But he’s done a solid job.”

The intriguing matchups on the outside with Golson potentially lining up against Lawson, Davidson, Byron Cowart, Jeff Holland and Prince Tega Wanogho could be fun to watch.

Jeremy Johnson

Johnson may have won back his teammates’ trust this spring, but he has a way to go to win back Auburn’s fan base. Johnson’s performance in the Birmingham Bowl did little to erase the visions of his disappointing start.

The coaching staff can talk up Johnson’s renewed confidence and improvements all they like, but until he showcases them on the field he is going to be a hard sell as the team’s potential starter.