Auburn’s season opener is a week away, with the Tigers’ 2022 debut against Mercer set for next Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Bryan Harsin’s team took to the field Saturday afternoon for a dress rehearsal of sorts — and an early opportunity for fans to check out this year’s team, with Saturday serving as the program’s second annual preseason kickoff. The practice was open to fans and media, lasting about 90 minutes Saturday afternoon.
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Here are AL.com’s observations and takeaways from the team’s preseason kickoff:
— Wide receiver Koy Moore was back at practice after missing some time earlier in the week. He ran with the second group on offense most of the day.
— Center Nick Brahms remains out, as his status for the start of the season remains up in the air. Defensive lineman Zykeivous Walker also did not participate in practice; he had a wrap on his leg.
— Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter went through pre-practice warmups (an abbreviated rundown of next week’s pregame warmups) but were held back during the remainder of practice. Freshman Damari Alston got the first-team reps in their place.
— Austin Troxell also went through early warmups but was held back. Like Bigsby and Hunter — and like Shedrick Jackson last week — this was likely a scheduled maintenance/off-day for the veteran right tackle. Brenden Coffey worked at right tackle with the starters in place of Troxell.
— TJ Finley remained the first quarterback in the rotation and received most of the first-team work. Robby Ashford was second in line, but he also rotated in with the first-team offense. Zach Calzada remained third in the rotation and worked with the second-team offense. Holden Geriner also got a few second-team reps, but remained fourth in the rotation.
— No real surprises with the first-team defense, which had Derick Hall and Eku Leota at either edge, and Colby Wooden and Marcus Harris on the interior of the line. Owen Pappoe and Cam Riley worked at linebacker. Donovan Kaufman was at nickel, while Jaylin Simpson and Nehemiah Pritchett were on the outside at corner. Zion Puckett and Cayden Bridges were back deep at safety, with Iowa State transfer Craig McDonald rotating in for Bridges at times.
— The first-team offense with Finley included Shedrick Jackson at the X, Malcolm Johnson Jr. at the Z and Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. in the slot. John Samuel Shenker was at tight end. Along the offensive line, Kilian Zierer was at left tackle, Troxell was at right (until Coffey stepped in after warmups), Keiondre Jones was at right guard and Tate Johnson was at center. Brandon Council and Kam Stutts rotated at left guard.
— During warmups, Oscar Chapman booted a punt that bounced out of bounds inside the 1-yard line. It was an impressive placement.
— The practice lasted 14 periods that ran 5 minutes each. The first period was a special teams circuit, followed by ball security in Period 2 and tempo in Period 3. During the tempo period, freshman wide receiver Camden Brown and tight end Luke Deal rotated in with the first-team offense.
— The second-team offense during tempo was led by Ashford at quarterback, with Sean Jackson and Jordon Ingram rotating at running back. Ze’Vian Capers and Moore rotated at receiver, along with Ja’Varrius Johnson. Deal and Brandon Frazier rotated at tight end. The offensive line had Alec Jackson at left tackle, Jeremiah Wright and Jalil Irvin rotating at left guard, Avery Jernigan at center, Jones at right guard and Colby Smith at right tackle.
— Period 4 was special teams work, with a focus on punt returns. The reps on returns went, in order: Ja’Varrius Johnson, Keionte Scott, Donovan Kaufman, Jay Fair and Dazalin Worsham.
— Period 5 was situational work in fourth-and-1 spots. Alston converted on a handoff from Finley on the first rep. On the second rep, Finley attempted a deep pass down the left sideline to Brown, who nearly came down with it, but Simpson broke it up on the way down. Still a nice-looking ball from Finley.
— Calzada ran with the second unit in the fourth-and-1 period. Sean Jackson was stuffed on a handoff on the first rep, then Ingram converted on the second attempt. Calzada tucked the ball and scrambled to convert the third try.
— Periods 6-8 were individual work. The QB/RB combos were: Finley/Bigsby, Ashford/Hunter, Calzda/Alston, Geriner/Ingram. Jackson did not participate in this period while being checked out by trainers on the sideline. He appeared fine and returned to the field shortly thereafter.
— During the individual periods, Anders Carlson and Alex McPherson worked on field goals of 50, 52 and 55 yards. Both displayed their strong legs and drilled a few of the attempts. Looked like a couple of them went wide.
— During passing drills, the quarterback rotation remained the same: Finley, Ashford, Calzada, Geriner. Finley again looked the most consistent, although there was a drop by Ja’Varrius Johnson on a slant. Ashford had one pass that he sailed on an in-route, but otherwise looked solid.
— Period 9 was more situational work. The situation: second-and-8 from the 40-yard line. Ashford got the first-team reps during this period. His first snap was a broken play that resulted in him throwing the ball away. On third-and-8 the following snap, he hit Ja’Varrius Johnson on an out but it was short of the sticks. Geriner then stepped in with the second-team offense. Ingram ran for 5 yards on second-and-8, then Geriner attempted a pass to Ingram out of the backfield on third-and-3.
— Auburn then went to red-zone work: fourth-and-goal from the 9 for one rep. Ashford was flushed out of the pocket by Dylan Brooks and then threw a pass out of the back of the end zone.
— Period 10 was special teams work, with a focus on kickoffs and kickoff returns. Auburn had six players rotating back deep on returns. Hunter and Alston got the first rep, followed by Pritchett and Moore. Fair and Scott also rotated in, but Auburn mixed up the pairings after the first two reps. Hunter and Fair got an opportunity together, and then Scott and Alston on the final rep.
— While everyone else worked on kickoffs, offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau worked with the quarterbacks in the north end zone. First they worked on throwing on the run, to their right, and hitting a target in the end zone. Ashford had one pass that he sailed over the target, but the rest of his attempts, as well as those from Finley, Calzada and Geriner were on-target.
— The QBs then worked on hitting the crossbar on one-step drops from behind the end zone. The drill seemed to focus on getting a high release to avoid batted balls at the line.
— The final three periods were offense vs. defense. Finley got the first opportunity with the ones, and then Ashford rotated in. Ashford had a nice pass over the middle to John Samuel Shenker on his first drive. He also had a completion to Worsham in a goal-to-go situation, but Worsham came down short of the end zone despite a nice leaping grab. At one point, Finley made a nice throw on the run to freshman tight end Micah Riley-Ducker. That was followed by a beautiful ball to Ze’Vian Capers in the end zone, with Simpson in coverage, but Capers dropped the pass. Finley was then picked off by Kaufman near the goal line on a pass intended for Fair.
— The practice ended with Calzada getting “sacked” by freshman linebacker Robert Woodyard.
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Thomas_Verde.