Observations: What we saw and heard on Day 10 of Auburn spring practices
Holden Geriner is making moves, two true freshmen will definitely play this fall and the defense is starting to take shape.
QB Holden Geriner (Auburn Athletics)
Hugh Freeze made some spring football headlines last week when he said that his quarterbacks weren’t as far along as he wanted them to be.
He had a much more positive outlook seven days later — specifically about one of his signal-callers in particular.
Holden Geriner only played a few snaps as a true freshman in 2022, but the former 4-star and top-20 quarterback prospect impressed both coaches and teammates alike with his arm talent. That’s carried over to the new era of Auburn football in 2023.
“I thought he really, really, really stood out all week with his improvement and his play,” Freeze said of Geriner. “Not that the others didn't improve also, but I thought (with) his grasp of what we were trying to do, he was impressive last week.”
A few minutes after Freeze spoke so highly of Geriner, media members got some on-field proof. Geriner has been the third quarterback in drills behind former starters Robby Ashford and T.J. Finley during open viewing windows this spring, but that changed Monday.
Geriner was the first quarterback on the field in the offense’s pace drill, sharing the backfield with RB1 Jarquez Hunter and throwing the ball to the likes of Ja’Varrius Johnson, Koy Moore, Nick Mardner and Rivaldo Fairweather.
During the next period, Geriner threw a long-range strike to Johnson that was by far the best pass of the viewing window.
Auburn doesn’t play a competitive football game for another five months, and there’s almost two whole weeks left of spring practices to go. There’s always a danger in reading too much into what happens in one specific press conference or one specific practice.
(Freeze said Friday that Ashford was dealing with a sore shoulder last week, as he went from one of his best practices last Monday to not being able to throw much on Wednesday or during the Friday scrimmage. Ashford’s limitations might have contributed to Geriner standing out, as Freeze noted.)
But Geriner’s stock seems to be rising in a quarterback battle that will surely stretch into fall camp. With a year of college football under his belt, the redshirt freshman is taking advantage of a new opportunity under a new staff.
“I think the task comes when you're getting all kinds of different looks on defense and you're trying to execute an offense that has a lot of options that's new to him, and that's where the growth has to take place,” Freeze said. “But like I said, I thought he had nice growth last week. Hope to see even more of that this week.”
Geriner wasn’t the only player who got some extra attention during Freeze’s press conference and the nearly hour-long practice viewing window Monday. Here’s what we saw and heard on the practice field, continuing with another young offensive player that turned some heads.
OL Tate Johnson, right (Auburn Athletics)
A surprise return to practice for Tate Johnson
Through the first few weeks of spring practices, Freeze had a lot of positives to say about fourth-year junior offensive lineman Tate Johnson — who was Auburn’s starting center in 2022 before a season-ending injury.
Johnson was stepping up as a leader in a new-look offensive line room, and he also was in the mix for the guard reps opposite Jeremiah Wright. But the Georgia native suffered an elbow injury around the midway point of spring ball that Freeze originally diagnosed as pretty severe.
“Tate’s out, probably for the rest of spring, unfortunately,” Freeze said last Monday. “He dislocated an elbow. The MRI was great on that, that it’s nothing structurally. But it takes time for those things to tighten back up.”
But on Monday, Johnson was back on the practice field, strapped up with a giant pad and brace on his left elbow. And he was right back to first-team reps at right guard in the pace drill, as the Tigers continue to look for starting options with FBS transfers Dillon Wade (left tackle), Avery Jones (center) and Gunner Britton (right tackle).
“They have absolutely improved us,” Freeze said of the transfers. “We won’t know until the fall if we closed the gap far enough to be able to compete with the elite in this league. We won’t know that until the fall. But there’s no question in my mind that they improved us, and I’m pleased with how they’re going about their business.”
Johnson bouncing back so quickly from his elbow injury is a great sign for Auburn, because it gives them a full-strength battle in the two-deep. There’s a good amount of competition for spots this early in the year, but Johnson being able to continue a great spring is a big-time positive for the offensive line as a whole.
OL Connor Lew (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn ‘hit a home run’ with Connor Lew
With Johnson on the shelf last week, true freshman offensive lineman Connor Lew got the first-team reps in the pace drill at right guard.
Lew was back to second-team center — where he has played for the majority of spring ball — but don’t take that as a sign of lessened faith in the talented young lineman from Kennesaw, Ga.
“I think we hit a home run with Connor Lew,” Freeze said. “Connor Lew is going to play for us as a freshman. … he's smart, tough, strong. Moves well. Hopefully he learns the game.”