The spotlight was on Auburn’s quarterbacks as the team took the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first scrimmage of fall camp, and while head coach Bryan Hasin was pleased with how TJ Finley, Robby Ashford and Zach Calzada operated the offense, it was a trio of newcomers who shined the brightest Saturday evening.
Freshmen Damari Alston and Camden Brown, as well as Iowa State transfer Craig McDonald stole the show during the Tigers’ first scrimmage of fall camp, which was a situational scrimmage featuring live work as part of the eighth preseason practice. All three of those newcomers scored touchdowns during the scrimmage and received praise from Harsin afterwards.
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Alston scored a pair of touchdowns Saturday evening, including a longer one early in the scrimmage and a short one during a goal-line period toward the end of practice. The freshman running back got a decent share of reps behind Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter, and he made the most of them Saturday night.
“The one thing about having guys and tailbacks that run the ball, you don’t want to overcoach them,” Harsin said. “He’s just got a good feeling for it. He knows where to go as far as his aiming point, and then I think he’s just got a good feel for when the play opens up, to hit it, if the play’s breaking down, what to do. He doesn’t lose many yards; he’s got a pretty good change of direction when he has to.”
The 5-foot-9, 209-pound freshman displayed some particularly impressive burst out of the backfield during the scrimmage, with Harsin singling out one specific play where Alston bounced a run to the outside and broke it off for a long gain before getting caught from behind. The former four-star prospect has impressed this fall after arriving on campus this summer, with running backs coach Cadillac Williams describing him as “wise beyond his years” and “not scared of the moment.”
Although Bigsby and Hunter are a certified one-two punch out of the backfield for Auburn, Alston could emerge as a quality third option as a freshman.
“Overall, just him running the ball tonight looked like he understood what we were trying to accomplish, had a good feel for what the O-line was going and was just kind of getting into a groove maybe more than anybody else,” Harsin said. .
While Alston got it done on the ground, Brown continued to draw praise for what he brings to the passing attack this preseason. The 6-foot-3, 202-pounder has been the darling of fall camp, and his stock has risen rapidly over the first eight practices.
Brown was one of two freshmen to get called up from the newcomers’ practice to the veterans’ session after the first day of fall camp, and he has routinely repeated with the second wave of wide receivers over the last week. With an opportunity to show off his physicality in a game-like situation, Brown did not disappoint Saturday, catching a touchdown from TJ Finley during the scrimmage at Jordan-Hare.
Brown has the chance to provide Auburn’s offense with something it lacked last season — a big-bodied playmaker in the passing game, which the Tigers have missed since Seth Williams turned pro following the 2020 season.
“Camden’s a young player that’s catching our eye right now,” Harsin said. “…And I think that whole group, with Coach (Ike) Hilliard, has made a lot of progress. That’s what I think. That’s a group that runs all the time. And there have been very few issues out of that group. They’re working. They’ve got to get better. We ask them to do a lot of things and be in a lot of positions. But, overall, they know what to do, they know where to go. I think they practice hard. I think they’ve competed well. Again, with that group, too, we’ve got to start kind of getting that down to ‘here’s the guys who are gonna make the play.’”
A transfer from Iowa State, McDonald was recruited to Auburn to help provide some needed depth and experience at safety after the program lost Smoke Monday and Bydarrius Knighten in the offseason. McDonald has Power 5 experience, but defensive backs coach Zac Etheridge noted the 6-foot-2, 204-pounder probably has more in-game experience at safety than anyone else in Auburn’s secondary.
During his first live action with his new team, McDonald made the defensive play of the evening when he recovered a fumble — after a linebacker jarred the ball loose in the backfield — during the goal-line period and returned it about 95 yards for a touchdown on what wound up being the final play of the scrimmage.
“It was a great play,” Harsin said. “…It was good for the defense. Good energy that way, and overall, I thought we got some good work in. We’re a ways away from where we need to be; I think guys know that, so the next step is Friday will be our next scrimmage, and then what do we do tomorrow to get ready for that? So, just the preparation, the urgency, all those things are going to be key factors as we start to dive into a little bit more of the depth chart and what we want that to look like going into the second scrimmage.”
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Thomas_Verde.