Aubserver Mailbag 115: Can Holden Geriner take that next step?
This week: QBs, Freeze's focus, Eckel, basketball transfers, the Final Four, The Masters, the Braves and WrestleMania weekend
QB Holden Geriner (Declan Greene/Auburn Athletics)
Several weeks ago, this newsletter opened with a question: How much can you really get out of spring practices?
As I wrote in late February, most position battles aren’t decided until fall camp, there will still be more roster moves over the summer, and we’re still several months away from actual competitive football on the Plains.
But I also wrote that for Auburn’s quarterbacks, it could be the most meaningful spring of their careers — because the staff wants to know if they need to get another transfer in the portal by the time it opens in May.
For the first half of spring ball, the staff didn’t share many specifics on the quarterback room. The position group as a whole needed to improve, and it was not where Hugh Freeze and Philip Montgomery wanted it to be by the midway point of practices.
Then, this past Monday, Freeze was more revealing about the quarterbacks after what he called a good week of progress. Most notably, he had high praise for Holden Geriner.
“I thought he really, really, really stood out all week with his improvement and his play,” Freeze said. “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.”
In the grand scheme of things, those are just a couple of sentences among the hundreds said by Freeze, his assistants and all of his players during spring ball. They shouldn’t automatically have a lot more weight than the others. He was also talking specifically about one week of practices, not an entire offseason.
But then, a few minutes later, Geriner was the first-team quarterback in an offensive pace drill — something that hadn’t been seen during any of the previous open viewing windows.
About two-thirds of the way through spring practices, Auburn had its Big Development at the quarterback spot.
As you might expect, Geriner’s progress prompted several questions for this week’s mailbag. We’ll lead off with those before moving onto a couple more football topics, the transfer portal in basketball and a super-sized grab bag of other sports questions at this very busy time of the year.
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Does Holden really take that next step this summer and set himself apart?
Up until this past week, it felt like Geriner was the true No. 3 in the quarterback battle with Robby Ashford and T.J. Finley. The other two have starting experience, and Geriner just played in a handful of snaps in the bizarre win over Missouri last September.
There was also that weird “we’re going to name Geriner the starter on the video board” thing against Arkansas, which turned out to be the previous staff’s final game. Nothing says you’re in over your head like trying to play a bizarre mind game on the other team — or your own fans, mostly — before getting smacked at home by multiple touchdowns to a team you had beaten six straight times.
Even though the coaches who recruited Geriner were long gone, he decided to stay with the team this past offseason and compete for the starting job under a new staff. While Geriner’s playing style looked like more of a natural fit for a pro-style system than the up-tempo spreads that Freeze and Montgomery have run, they’ve had success with a wide variety of quarterbacks over the years.
And it shouldn’t be surprising that Geriner has put himself in the first-team conversation. Recruiting rankings aren’t a be-all, end-all by any means, but Geriner is the highest-rated quarterback in Auburn’s room right now. He was an Elite 11 finalist and an Under Armour All-American. He had 61 passing touchdowns and just six interceptions across his final two years of high school. The kid has arm talent.
It wouldn’t shock me if Geriner is Auburn’s best passing option, either. Ashford completed just 49.2% of his passes in 2022. Finley has completed less than 57% of his passes against Power 5 opponents since he arrived on campus. The Tigers are going to need major improvements from either of them in the accuracy department if they want to be competitive as an SEC offense in 2023.
Geriner is getting the reps that will make him more comfortable in the college game, and none of the quarterbacks have a built-in advantage over the other when it comes to knowing an offense that’s brand-new to them. If the redshirt freshman shows that he’s the best option at quarterback this season, Auburn won’t hesitate to the pull the trigger on him.
However, I think it’s important to remember that a) Ashford’s passing numbers last season were affected by several injuries that he had to play through, b) he’s had to deal with a sore shoulder that has cut into his throwing opportunities recently and c) he’s such a dynamic playmaker with his running ability — and there’s no real way to gauge that in preseason football.
Because of those factors and Geriner’s inexperience, I think there might not be any clear-cut separation at the quarterback spot until fall camp. And, of course, there’s the chance that a new competitor comes into the fold over the summer.
Speaking of which…
Holden or Robby aren’t up to speed come end of spring, are there any QBs we could still bring in?
Do you believe that the QB Freeze wants starting this fall is enrolled in Auburn right now?
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