Assessing the first half of spring ball
Though I have only seen short portions of two practices, I nonetheless feel full qualified to make sweeping generalizations and other observations. If that bothers you, if you believe direct observation is critical to analysis, you're concurrently correct and welcome to end your relationship with this blog post right now.
Still on board? Good.
Several things have caught my eye so far. Some are "good" from an Auburn perspective. Some are "bad" from an Auburn perspective. That seems like an easy way to organize things.
- Cam Newton: The scouting reports I hear vary from good to glowing, which is a little better than I expected. It's obvious that he can challenge a defense with his feet in a way Kodi Burns could not. Newton is faster, quicker and a better passer. Will be be a better overall quarterback than Chris Todd? I think so. Newton has better arm strength. I'll be watching Newton closely during the A-Day game to get a feel for the repeatability of his throwing motion and his accuracy. If those grade out well, Newton could be a star beginning ... now.
- Onterio McCalebb's physical development: He has added 10 pounds since season's end. He won't soon be mistaken for Rudi Johnson or anything, but McCalebb (left) could be a franchise-type back if he can get to 195 pounds and retain that acceleration. He's still 15-20 pounds short of that threshold. I have knocked his durability in the past. You are correct. I didn't think he'd dedicate himself this doggedly toward adding bulk. Considering the other tailback options available right now, McCalebb will have a straightforward opportunity to become an All-SEC guy in 2010.
- Emory Blake has a clue: He was an 18-year-old freshman last season and didn't earn enough playing time to truly shine during the season's second half. He could have. Blake is an intriguing mix of raw talent and intellectual refinement. I believe he'll emerge as that No. 3 wideout (barring injury) and looks like the next Courtney Taylor. Coaches are very high on the progress Blake has demonstrated since, say, October.
- Ikeem Means' rise: You probably had no idea this kid was on the team until recently, which is entirely reasonable. The Wetumpka native was a true freshman in 2009 and participated almost exclusively on special teams. He's been given a shot at safety this spring and has moved into contention for a rotation spot this fall. Is he a star? Probably not. He's a walk-on with some talent and a hunger that drives him. He has a chance to become the next Adlai Trone, who walked on in 1998 and became a secondary staple in 2000 and 2001. This could be a great story -- and a great development for a team desperately seeking depth at safety.
- Mike McNeil's leg: The Mobile native was a full-time starter in 2008. Things changed during the Tigers' first spring scrimmage of 2009 when he suffered a compound leg fracture. The injury still is giving him problems. Auburn is seeking qualified guys to start at safety and it's been assumed all along that McNeil would fill that role in 2010. Now I'm not so sure.
- Has anyone seen Eric Smith?: Auburn isn't exactly bursting at the seams with depth at tailback right now. It's a perfect time for someone to establish themselves as the No. 1 guy going into two-a-days. One name I never hear is Eric Smith (right). I know he probably doesn't have the acceleration you'd expect from a featured back, but Smith has a remarkably diverse base of skills. He should be in the mix -- yet he isn't. All jokes about the SWAG Team and Fists of Fury aside, Smith is an intriguing talent. Can he get back in the coaches' good graces and become the impact player he should be?
- More injuries for Bart Eddins and Philip Pierre-Louis: Eddins is expected to miss the rest of spring with another knee injury. Though this one isn't considered epically bad, it's still going to slow Eddins' development. He appears on the cusp of a starting job at left guard. I hate it for him. Same for PPL, who was carted off the field last weekend with what appeared to observers to be a serious knee injury. Doctors are expected to diagnose the injury today because swelling in the knee didn't subside quickly. PPL tore a knee ligament on the first play of his career in 2008, which robbed him of a full year of development. Coaches were impressed with his play of late ... and now this. There's a chance the injury won't require surgery, but that seems unlikely at this point.
Photo credit: Todd Van Emst/Auburn University
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