Auburn spring game: Five things to watch


When Auburn takes the field Saturday for the annual A-Day game, it is going to have a new quarterback, a new crop of running backs and a defensive coordinator. Needless to say, the Tigers will look considerably different from the team that finished 8-5 a season ago.

My colleague Alex Scarborough and I broke down the Auburn spring game in Wednesday’s Take Two, but here are five things to watch Saturday.

Coach Boom is back: It’s been over seven years since Will Muschamp has paced the home sideline at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and though we’re not sure what sideline he’ll be on for Saturday’s spring game, we do know that he’ll be wearing Auburn colors again. The former defensive coordinator assumes his old role for the Tigers and will be in charge of revamping a defense that fell apart last season. Can he fix the secondary? Will we see more from the pass rush? Who is going to play the Buck linebacker in his new scheme? Don’t expect to get every question answered -- it is just the spring game after all -- but it will give us our first glimpse of what the new defense is going to look like.

So is Carl Lawson: Speaking of defense, Carl Lawson is expected to make his much-anticipated return to the field Saturday as well. The former five-star defensive end showed flashes as a freshman in 2013 and just when he was about to take the next step the following spring, he tore his ACL. It’s been a long year of rehab and recovery for Lawson, and nobody is more excited to get back on the field than he is. Lawson is expected to play the new Buck position, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role similar to what Dante Fowler Jr. played for Florida last year. That means Lawson will be standing up at times, but his main responsibility is still getting to the quarterback and wreaking havoc in the backfield.

Quarterback competition: OK, so it’s not really a competition. Jeremy Johnson has all but won the job. But don’t assume anything until Gus Malzahn officially names a starter. With that said, I want to see what the offense looks like with Johnson under center. Sure, we’ve seen it at times the past two years, but how will it look when he’s the guy? Will Auburn come out throw more Saturday, or will we see the same offense that we’ve seen the past two seasons? It will also be our first look at backup Sean White, a redshirt freshman who the coaches have been raving about since he arrived on campus. If Johnson does win the job and has a big year, there’s a good chance White will be the favorite heading into next spring.

Jovon’s debut: Auburn has a total of seven early enrollees who will be playing in front of the fans for the time, but none more captivating than Jovon Robinson. As the nation’s No. 1 junior-college player, he’s expected to come in and make an immediate impact at running back and maybe even win the job. Obviously, Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber will have a say in that battle, but we’ve seen those two. We’ve yet to see Robinson. This will be his first chance to make an impression on the Auburn faithful. If it goes anything like D’haquille Williams’ debut last spring, Robinson will be a household name by the time it’s over. But he’s more focused on impressing the coaches and winning the job.

Replacing Reese Dismukes: The running back battle should be fun to watch, as will the battle to be the No. 2 wide receiver. But the most intriguing and maybe most important competition will be at center. Xavier Dampeer and Austin Golson are battling this spring to replace Dismukes, a four-year starter who was as important as anybody to this offense the past two seasons. Dampeer backed up Dismukes last year and has more experience, but Golson, a transfer from Ole Miss, has more upside. The only problem is Golson has been an offensive tackle for the majority of his career. He has to prove that he can handle the snaps, the calls at the line and everything else that goes with playing center for Auburn.