Observations: What we saw and heard on Day 12 of Auburn spring practices
The A-Day Game format, more insights on the QBs and several standouts to watch highlighted the start of the final week of spring ball.
(Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
A sense of newness has been the main theme of Auburn football’s spring practices over the last several weeks.
So it should come as no surprise that the spring finale this Saturday — the annual A-Day Game in Jordan-Hare Stadium — will have a fresh format.
Instead of splitting into two even teams, Auburn will go offense versus defense for the scrimmage Saturday afternoon. The defense will start with a set number of points on the scoreboard, and the goal will be for the offense to beat that mark by the end of the four quarters.
No stat-padding of starters versus backups. No bizarre scoring system where turnovers or big plays count as points. The spring game will be closer to what football is at its core: an offense trying to score and a defense trying to get stops.
“I will start drives at various spots and, hopefully, some end in points,” Hugh Freeze said Monday. “If the defense can hold the offenses to under that point, the defense wins the spring game, and they'll get to eat steak or something. And the losers will eat a hot dog, something like that.”
Freeze said the Tigers will be healthy enough to pull off a real spring scrimmage for the fans Saturday. But he also wants those in attendance or those watching the stream on SEC Network+ to have realistic expectations — because the team is still in the early stages of putting things together and the staff doesn’t want to show its hand too much.
“They're going to see us hit and they're going to see us tackle, and they're going see people run the ball and people throw the ball,” Freeze said. “Will it be exactly the same that they see this fall? I sure hope not. I hope it's better — and probably a little different.”
Auburn doesn’t know what it is right now on offense, according to Freeze. There’s a lot of moving parts on the early depth chart and infinitely more reps that need to be taken by everyone involved.
But, after the defense had the better performances during the first scrimmage of spring ball, it was “total domination” for the offense in the two practices last week.
“I don't have the luxury of leaving the practice field feeling good either way,” Freeze said. “So, I thought two Fridays ago, we stunk on offense and I hope we're really good on defense. And then Wednesday, I left practice thinking: 'We stink on defense. Maybe we're pretty good on offense.'
“So, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. We're nowhere near where we need to be on either side yet, but the offense had a really good day Wednesday.”
That should make for a competitive spring game Saturday, even if the product is understandably watered down from what you’ll see in the fall.
There will be a lot to see and learn about both the offense and the defense, and that was true for Monday’s practice viewing window — which lasted nearly a full hour yet again. Here is what we heard and saw at the football complex to kick off the final week of spring ball.
DE Mosiah Nasili-Kite (Declan Greene/Auburn Athletics)
Keep an eye on these recent standouts
When Freeze was asked Monday afternoon which players grabbed his attention in practices recently, he didn’t hesitate to quickly name a new transfer.
Auburn has had several newcomers stand out during spring ball, which is exactly what was needed for a roster that had to have a quick talent infusion on the heels of back-to-back losing seasons. But the player Freeze mentioned first Monday was a new one for him: defensive lineman Mosiah Nasili-Kite.
“I thought he improved, probably, the most from practice 1 to last week as any on the d-line,” Freeze said. “He was disruptive. He plays the game extremely passionately and hard. He definitely caught my eye.”
Nasili-Kite spent the last three seasons at Maryland after transferring from Independence Community College in Kansas. With the Terrapins, Nasili-Kite recorded 80 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks across 27 games.
At 6-foot-2 and 288 pounds, Nasili-Kite is one of the smaller options on the defensive line for the Tigers. Defensive line coach Jeremy Garrett called him “very twitchy” and said he has more power than one might expect at first glance. Defensive end Jeffrey M’ba — another Independence product — recently told media members to “keep his name in your head.”
During the practice viewing window Monday, Garrett praised Nasili-Kite for several strong reps on the sleds. He repped with M’ba as a second-team defensive end in a drill run by defensive coordinator Ron Roberts, where the Jack linebackers and linemen worked together in units through a variety of play calls.
Freeze singled out a pair of defensive backs for their progress last week: former JUCO transfer Marquise Gilbert and true freshman cornerback Kayin Lee. Gilbert has gotten a lot of reps at safety this spring after playing just 39 defensive reps in three games last season. Lee has been a popular name in spring ball, as the late Ohio State flip is one of just three healthy scholarship cornerbacks right now.
On the offensive side of the ball, Freeze said he saw the wide receiver room step up last week. The receivers have been the target of a fair bit of criticism from the coaching staff and others recently, so the more positive news on the position group definitely stood out.
Freeze specifically mentioned returning leader Ja’Varrius Johnson and underclassman Jay Fair for their consistency throughout practices, while also noting that early spring star Camden Brown has been limited with an ankle injury. Big-bodied targets Nick Mardner and Landen King have “made some strides,” per Freeze, while Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. had “two long, explosive catches” last week.
“I think all have improved some,” Freeze said “… I mean, you’re going to play, in this system, eight receivers a game. And I don’t really care who’s first team, second — I don’t really care about all that. I care that they understand what we’re doing and are in the right spots doing the right technique and, hopefully, can finish plays.”
WR Ja’Varrius Johnson (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
The customary three-deep look at the offense in pace drills
It’s that time again. Here are the three full offensive lineups during the pace drill — where the Tigers reps a series of plays in a no-huddle format with no defense on the field.