By JD McCarthy
For the Opelika Observer
The Brian Harsin era may have just begun at Auburn, but he’s already done something Gus Malzahn or Gene Chizik never did, open up practice to the public.
On Saturday, Auburn fans were able to enter Jordan-Hare Stadium and spend about two hours of their afternoon watching the football team conduct their practice.
The practice, just the third of the spring, consisted of about 20 different periods of work and had both team and position-specific drills. While it is still early in the offseason and things are bound to change, the rare peek behind the curtain provided plenty of information.
Here are the Observer’s takeaways for every position group.
The offensive line is the group that will likely have the most interest over the next several months and is a good place to start. The first-team was the same that was used most of last year with Alec Jackson, Tashawn Manning, Nick Brahms, Keiondre Jones and Brodarious Hamm lining up from left to right.
The second-team was, from left to right, Austin Troxell, Tate Johnson, Jalil Irvin, Kameron Stutts and Brenden Coffey.
Unsurprisingly, this group was led by Bo Nix, who made some good plays with his legs and arm but also missed some open receivers. When he wasn’t taking snaps, Nix was usually next to Harsin receiving personal instruction – surely an encouraging sign.
Behind Nix, walk-on Trey Lindsey received most of the second-team reps with Dematrius Davis also seeing some action. Davis has some impressive zip on his throws despite his size. Grant Loy was at practice but did not participate with what appears to be a hamstring injury.
Both of Nix and Davis spent time under center and while neither one of them looked very comfortable, it will be interesting to see how that is added to the offence as they get more comfortable under center.
Tank Bigsby is still quite good at football and looks like the best player on the team.
Shaun Shivers was the No. 2 back and looked as explosive as ever despite gaining 10 pounds according to the roster.
Devan Barrett was limited Saturday but Harsin said afterward that he was still coming back from a knee injury.
With the losses of Seth Williams, Eli Stove and Anthony Schwartz this group looked the most different than it had in years.
Kobe Hudson, Elijah Canion and Malcolm Johnson Jr. received the most first-team reps but Caylin Newton and Ja’Varrius Johnson also received time with the first-team.
Unfortunately, both Shedrick Jackson and Ze’vian Capers were limited with injuries so we did not get to see how the rotation will work out when everyone is at full health.
The Tigers are absolutely loaded at tight end and it looks like they will use a lot of two-tight end sets to take advantage of any mismatches they can create. This group rotated heavily throughout the practice, and it looks like each one will be used to maximize their abilities.
J.J. Pegues and Luke Deal both lined up at full back, and made nice blocks, and Pegues ran a few routes out of the slot. Brandon Frazier looks like he may be a constant mismatch in the passing game. Tyler Fromm worked with the first-team a fair amount, which comes as a surprise after having limited action up to this point.
John Samuel Shenker was with the baseball team at Ole Miss and did not participate.
The first-team defense started in a 3-4 defense for the practice even though they logged reps at several other fronts, something they are expected to do throughout the season. The first-team consisted of Jeremiah Wright and Tyrone Truesdale on the inside and Colby Wooden along the edge.
Dre Butler, Lee Hunter, Marquis Burks, Caleb Johnson, Zykeivous Walker and Jaren Handy all got work with the second-team.
There were no surprises at linebacker with Owen Pappoe and ZaKoby in the middle and Derrick Hall and T.D. Moultry flanking them. Chandler Wooten is back and, along with Wesley Steiner, served as the second-team for the middle linebackers.
One of the thinnest spots on Auburn’s roster right now is the safety position. One spot is locked down by Smoke Monday but the other is up for grabs.
Ladarious Tennison came out as the starting safety alongside Monday and may have a path to earning that starting spot. Freshman Ahmari Harvey was limited and looks to figure into the battle when healthy.
The starting corners were Roger McCreary and Jaylin Simpson with Nehemiah Pritchett serving as the nickelback. If the moves of Tennison to safety and Pritchett to nickel stick, then the growth of Simpson will be huge.
The second-team consisted of Eric Reed Jr. and Kamal Hadden at corner and Chris Thompson Jr. and Trey Elston at safety. Elston is a walk-on from Auburn and may serve a key role due to the lack of depth at safety.
For photos of the Tigers throughout spring practice thus far, turn to page B7.