Fall Camp 15: The Auburn players we're watching closely this preseason
From Damari Alston to Robert Woodyard Jr., here are annual picks for players to watch during Auburn football's upcoming fall camp.
RB Damari Alston (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
It’s almost time to rise and shine with the new era of Auburn football.
The Tigers’ fall camp officially starts this Wednesday, with players reporting to campus. Practices begin Thursday morning, as Auburn will try to beat the overwhelming heat on the Plains by getting their work done earlier in the day.
For the next several weeks, Auburn will have a whole lot of position battles to decide, roles to establish and strategies to nail down. This roster is almost split 50/50 between returning pieces and newcomers, and it feels like almost everything is up for grabs with just one month left until the start of the new season.
There’s going to be a lot to track in fall camp, and The Observer will be there every step of the way with our Practice Observations and a whole lot more. And, to get set for the start of camp, here’s our annual Fall Camp 15: The players we’re keeping an eye on the most over the next several weeks.
This list is in traditional position order, starting with the quarterbacks and running backs, continuing through the lines and ending with the defensive backfield.
Some of these players are household names already. Others are ready to break out. And a few haven’t even seen a down of college football yet. But they’re all commanding our attention as we get closer to a new season of Auburn football.
Robby Ashford and Payton Thorne
Auburn came out of some up-and-down spring practices at the quarterback position thinking that Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner — he could easily have made the cut for the Fall Camp 15, too — made improvements, but it decided to get Payton Thorne from Michigan State in the second transfer portal window. Even though Ashford was Auburn’s primary starting quarterback last season, Thorne has more experience at the college level and put up much better passing numbers than what we saw from the Tigers last year.
Thorne has to be considered the early favorite to win the job, since Hugh Freeze’s track record has been to go with the new transfer in battles like this one. But Thorne has to do a lot in a short amount of time, since he didn’t go through spring ball on the Plains like Ashford. He’s been hard at work this summer working with his new teammates, and we’ll see how he’s able to put it all together during real practices and the all-important fall camp scrimmages.
The subplot to the quarterback race is Ashford’s ability to impact the offense if he doesn’t win the starting job. Few quarterbacks in the country were better at running the ball last season, even with Auburn’s overall offensive issues. Freeze said at SEC Media Days he thinks Ashford will help the Tigers win games this fall. So, if things are pointing toward Thorne claiming the QB1 role, when and how the Tigers decide to change things up for Ashford will be fascinating to watch.
Thorne has the potential to put up some of the best numbers Auburn has seen in the passing game since Jarrett Stidham, particularly if he gets a strong running game next to him like he did during his breakout 2021 season at Michigan State. And, with a more consistent arm, Ashford can be a monster weapon in an offense orchestrated by Freeze and Philip Montgomery. This will be a fun competition to track in August.