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Spring newsbits, 4/6

Keep truckin', Mario.

Another day, another spring practice, another round of newsbits. Reporting comes courtesy Andy Bitter, Jay G. Tate, Bryan Matthews, Andrew Gribble, Evan Woodbery and Charles Goldberg, as usual.

Your commentary:

—  Yesterday’s leads were mostly “nothing’s changed in QB race,” but, uh, just because the Auburn coaches and Cam Newton say that Newton’s increase in reps doesn’t mean anything doesn’t make it the truth. Malzahn actually declaring the race to have come down to Quarterbacks X and Y rather than Q and Z is the last public step he’ll take, not the first. If Newton and Trotter are getting more snaps–and what would Neil Caudle have to gain by distorting that?–then it’s hard to see how Caudle’s going to make himself the starter.

So Newton is now your well-established front-runner, not only for the news that he’s getting more reps than any of the other three QBs but two other between-the-lines factors:

1. Our notoriously media-averse coaches keep tossing him out in front of the media. Part of that is that Newton appears plenty comfortable with a tape recorder in his face, but the guess here is that part of that is also the coaches understanding that he’s going to be the face of the offense sooner rather than later.

2. We haven’t gotten many third-party reports from Saturday’s scrimmage, but the ones I have seen–like this one at AUUndercover and and an insider-y thing passed along in my inbox–have agreed that Newton was Auburn’s best quarterback at that scrimmage by a wide, wide margin.

And remember, Newton’s only been on campus a few weeks, while opening night is five months away. At this point, it will be major, major, major surprise if anyone else is named Auburn’s starting quarterback.

— We have to assume that’s mostly for the better, but Newton his own self admitted there’s a couple of “for worse” elements to that equation, too, namely not carrying out his fakes and–more worryingly–staring down his receivers. Tate also reported that he’d said he was struggling with his patience, making one read and then hoofing it if the receiver wasn’t there.

The latter complaints will feed into the “not going to be a true, accurate quarterback” worry that I think we all share when it comes to Newton, but again: there’s the rest of spring, all summer, and fall camp before Newton actually has to hit the field. Read issues are a function of a) not knowing the offense b) not having to have made said reads at Blinn. The more Newton understands the offense and the further he steps away from JUCO competition, the better he’ll be. Malzahn’s done way more with way less before; if he says Newton’s ready this fall, Newton will be ready.

(Also: given how big a threat Newton will be on the hoof and how crushing forced throws can be for a high-risk-high-reward offense like this one, I can’t say him pulling the ball down quicker than he “should” exactly fills me with dread.)

— So: Barrett Trotter earns reps at the scrimmage equal to Caudle’s, then earns more reps in the first post-scrimmage practice. It’s way, way too early to say he’s going to be the backup quarterback, but I do think it’s fair to say he’s making a charge at it.

— Injury issues: we don’t know anything about Frenchy’s knee problem yet and won’t until, uh, I think tomorrow but maybe today. In any case, the delay seems to suggest it’s on the serious side, which, AAAAGGHH. What’s the creole for “this timing could not possibly be worse”?

Maybe even worse–and more disheartening for the player himself–is that Bart Eddins is expected to miss the rest of spring drills. Talk about a guy that can’t catch a break. If Eddins is good to go by two-a-days (as is allegegedly expected) he should still be the first guard and/or center off the bench. But he could have locked himself into that role with a big spring, and now he has to worry about John Sullen or even one of the fall freshmen usurping him. Tough.

Also, senior walk-on Jorrell Bostrom, a former JUCO who made a push onto the o-line two-deep last year, will miss the rest of the spring with some kind of arm injury. (He was spotted in a sling). With the influx of offensive linemen from the recruiting class and guys like John Sullen no longer total n00bs, line injuries aren’t the panic-inducers they were at this time last year. Still, all those freshmen aren’t on campus yet, and having three guys from the two-deep on the shelf is less than optimal.

— I’m not sure there’s a straighter shooter on Auburn’s staff than Jeff Grimes. It was refreshing to hear him repeatedly say “No, we really don’t have any depth, quit asking” (in so many words) last season, and it’s refreshing now to hear his straightforward take on Lee Ziemba:

“What he’s trying to do now is to develop his game to the point where he can be one of the best offensive linemen in the country,” Grimes said. “For him to do that, he’s got to get a lot better at a lot of the details. The difference between being a very good offensive lineman and being a great one, a lot of times, is because of the small technical details. He’s a lot further along this year than he was at this point [last] year.

Nothing super-revelatory, I guess, but it just strikes me as an honest, quality assessment. And it’s appreciated.

While we’re discussing the line, it’s apparently official that Sullen is the first choice left guard while Berry and Eddins are out.

— Ikeem Means came in for a long praise session from Chizik, and if it wasn’t clear already, it’s even clearer now that he’s a serious threat to earn meaningful playing time at safety. The buzz isn’t dissimilar at all from what Daren Bates created when he first arrived last fall.

— Terrific news: Ryan Shoemaker has apparently continued to boot the hell out of the ball this spring. Jay Boulware said Shoemaker’s looking better now than he did at any point last season. Whether it’s because (as Boulware theorizes) he’s worried about Steven Clark stealing his job or because (as I theorize) it’s a little easier to focus and work hard knowing that Clinton Durst isn’t standing in your way, knowing we’re more likely to see the Freshman All-SEC Shoemaker rather than the frazzled Shoemaker who helped lose the 2008 LSU game is a big, big relief.

Also in special teams land: Darvin Adams has allegedly been returning punts. Boulware credited his “leadership” in helping get the group’s head on straight. But, uh … we’re not actually going to have Darvin Adams return punts, are we? With PPL out and Adams too valuable to use back there, is Quindarius Carr your current odds-on favorite? I don’t see anyone else

Also also: Chandler “Yellow Shoes” Brooks hit all 8 of his attempts in practice while Byrum had the day off. The odds that Brooks ever takes a field goal attempt in a game are slimmer than slimmerson, but it’s still nice to know that if Byrum gets hurt and Cody Parkey is stolen by aliens, maybe it won’t be a total disaster.

— Sounds like the Gayden/Mosley battle at right tackle will be a fall decision. As long as the coaches sound pleased and it’s more a “both of these guys are good” thing than a “neither guy’s good enough to get any separation” thing, more power to both of them. The longer they have to push each other, hopefully the better they’ll be.

Photo by Van Emst.

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