Fall Camp 15: The Auburn players we're watching the closest during preseason practices
With just a few days to go before the start of Bryan Harsin's second fall camp at Auburn, here's our second annual rundown of players that have our attention right now.
WR Ze’Vian Capers (all photos by Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
After nearly four months away, Auburn football will truly be back at the end of this week. And it’ll be the start of final preparations for a truly make-or-break Year 2 under Bryan Harsin.
The Tigers will report for fall camp Thursday, followed by the first practice of the session on Friday. In a little more than a month of time, they’ll open their 2022 season with a home matchup against FCS opponent Mercer.
The main storylines will be obvious: Who’s going to be the starting quarterback? Will there be any offensive line improvement? Can the defense reload after the loss of a coordinator and several key players? And can Auburn, once again, exceed the low outside expectations placed upon them during talking season — or is this truly uncharted territory?
Today’s newsletter, though, is more about the players themselves than the question marks. Just like we did this time last year, here’s our Fall Camp 15: The 15 players, in alphabetical order by last name, that will get special attention from the Observer during practices.
Some are brand-new to the team. Some are returning guys who might take the next step. Some are in positions or roles of need, while others could be the stars of the future.
You won’t find the most obvious names on this list. Instead, these are players who could greatly influence the tone of Auburn’s 2022 season — even if it’s not immediately obvious right now.
Auburn’s one-two punch at running back is still intact, with Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter looking to build off of their impressive but uneven debut as a tandem in 2021. But how will the Tigers replace Shaun Shivers, who had 36 touches as a primarily receiving option last season?
Former walk-on Sean Jackson could carve out a role, but he looks like more of a short-yardage power back. And while Jordon Ingram took advantage of improved health in spring practices, there’s a lot of buzz around Alston — Auburn’s highest-rated offensive skill player from the 2022 class.
Alston was a yardage machine in high school at Woodward Academy in metro Atlanta, and he finished his career with more than 700 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. If Auburn needs to find a new back who can operate in space while Bigsby and Hunter take most of the carries, Alston checks a lot of boxes.
One thing working in Alston’s favor is his offseason preparation, as he trained with Bigsby and former Auburn running back Brad Lester over the summer. Bigsby spoke highly of the bond he’s already created with his fellow Georgia native, and there should be plenty of eyes on him in fall camp. After all, running back is one of the easiest positions to get early playing time as a true freshman.
The summer chatter for Auburn’s quarterbacks was dominated by Zach Calzada, who returned to 100% health and grabbed attention with all the videos of his throwing work that were posted to social media. And, truth be told, Calzada feels like the favorite to win the starting job in fall camp — considering he was the first transfer Auburn got and he has more experience than any other quarterback in the room.
But how Robby Ashford ended spring ball shouldn’t be forgotten. Ashford was the offensive MVP of the A-Day Game and looked quite impressive operating inside and outside of the pocket. He’s got the best wheels of any of the four quarterbacks in the competition, which is something that he could turn into an edge during team drills and scrimmages.
Ashford hasn’t played a snap of meaningful college football yet, but the tools are there for him. He’s tall, got a powerful arm and is comfortable throwing the ball on the run or scrambling. He’s spent the last few months continuing to learn the Auburn offense and build chemistry with his teammates.
Now, it’s time for him to turn it loose in fall camp. He feels like the real wild card in this competition, as he is equal parts mystery and upside. If he can build off of the spring game performance when Auburn gets closer to naming a starting quarterback, watch out.
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