Observations from the first two days of Auburn preseason practices

By Matt Cohen |
The first two days of Auburn’s preseason practices have wrapped up Friday afternoon. The quarterback battle will be the biggest on-field story, and through two days there may be a few beginning inkling of the hierarchy. But it’s not the only open job on Auburn’s roster, far from it, and the on-field stories may not be as crucial as the off-field ones.
Here are some observations, notes and storylines from the first two days of camp.
Who wasn’t there may outshine who was
We can start with the obvious one. Junior running back Jarquez Hunter didn’t practice on either Thursday or Friday during the open period with media members. His status remains clouded by uncertainty.
Following the release of a sex tape allegedly depicting Hunter, Auburn announced it had given indefinite suspensions to some football players but didn’t say who, how many, or why.
Sophomore safety Caleb Wooden was not at either of Auburn’s first two practices either.
Junior wide receiver Koy Moore has been at practice and in uniform, but was not a full participant. On Friday, he stood off to the side during offensive team drills, and at the end of the period open to reporters, was in the indoor field seeming to be stretching with a coach.
It’s unclear what specifically is keeping Moore out.
Your scheduled quarterback update
Through two days of fall camp, Michigan State transfer Payton Throne has been the first quarterback taking snaps with the presumed first-team offensive line group.
In the time open to reporters, Thorne hasn’t shown anything particularly notable for the practice highlight reel, but he has been reliable and precise with most of his throws. It’s unclear to what extent he feels comfortable with a new offense at this point, and how much of the playbook is being opened up in team drills with media present.
Sophomore Holden Geriner has been the second quarterback out each of the first two days, and may have shown the best flashes of Auburn’s main trio. His deep ball touch has been the best of the quarterback room so far. Head coach Hugh Freeze frequently would bring up Geriner before Throne or Robby Ashford when discussing Auburn’s quarterbacks, and while he may not win the job, it certainly makes sense why Freeze is a believer.
Ashford may have the most potential of any quarterback on the roster, but he’s struggled during the open periods. Ashford showed many flashes of elite play when he took over as Auburn’s starter at the end of last season. But through two days of fall camp, many of his limitations — especially with regard to accuracy — have shown.
On Friday, Ashford underthrew a crossing route in the flat to his left side, leading to an incompletion. Later in the team drill, he threw a deep ball down the right sideline and while the pass was completed, the wobbly, underthrown ball likely would not have been if the offense was not playing against air.
On Thursday, Ashford hardly threw the ball at all during the same team drill. Most of his plays were designed runs.
Last season, Ashford has a 49.2% completion rate.
Though all quarterback observations do come with the caveat of the media watching quarterbacks play without facing a secondary.
Okay, outside of quarterbacks, who might be starting?
Let’s start with the offense. That offensive line group Thorne was throwing behind? Those five remained the same during the first two days of practice, and shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Tulsa transfer Dillon Wade played left tackle, junior Tate Johnson lined up at left guard, East Carolina transfer Avery Jones was the center, senior Kam Stutts played right guard and Western Kentucky transfer Gunner Britton was the right tackle.
Yet while that group seems fairly stead-fast, they were surrounded by a ton of skill position rotation.
Maybe the most notable player to see time in team drills with the first group of offensive linemen and Thorne was freshman running back Jeremiah Cobb. Cobb could be in for a huge role if Auburn is without Hunter.
Damari Alston played with Thorne on Thursday.
In terms of wide receivers, the group has been far from set. On Thursday senior Ja’Varrius Johnson lined with the third group on offense, but on Friday was with Thorne. Sophomore Cam Brown and junior Malcolm Johnson Jr. were also with Thorne’s group along with FIU transfer tight end Rivaldo Fairweather.
Transfers Nick Mardner and Shane Hooks have each stood out purely from their height, though Caleb Burton has been the most impactful big-play receiver of the group of new guys to this point.
Again, all needs to be taken with a grain of salt without facing a secondary in front of media.
Okay, so how about the defense?
The first group on the defensive front was jack linebacker Elijah McAllister, defensive linemen Marcus Harris, Jayson Jones and defensive end Mosiah Nasili-Kite. Austin Keys and Eugene Asante lined up in the middle as the linebackers and Keionte Scott, D.J. James and Nehemiah Pritchett were the first corners in defensive drills. Jaylen Simpson was the first safety.
Much of that is as expected.
Highly touted freshman Keldric Faulk lined up as a defensive end on the second group of defensive players. He is listed on the roster at 6-foot-6, 288 pounds.
A final defensive note: Auburn had some freshmen in the secondary shadowing the presumptive starters, seemingly as a means of learning from Auburn’s top guys in a secondary room that seems to be a team strength.

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