Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn may have wanted to have a top quarterback in mind by the time spring practice concluded, but that plan may not come to fruition.
Junior Barrett Trotter and sophomore Clint Moseley are neck-and-neck in the quarterback race going into Saturday's A-Day game. They will split reps throughout the offense vs. defense scrimmage-like game.
"There's been days that one of them plays better than the other and vice versa," Malzahn said. "Just to be completely honest, it's been fairly close. In my mind there's not a whole lot of separation. At the end of it, we'll look at every practice, we'll look at every snap and we've been charting completions, touchdowns, interceptions, fumbles, everything. We'll take all that into account."
There's a chance that the battle for the starting job will continue into fall camp.
"We're not for sure right now," Malzahn said. "Probably after tomorrow we'll meet - me and coach (Gene) Chizik will - we'll see where we're at. Usually you try to compile all the information. We're still in the mode right now of giving them equal chances, just like we were last year at this time. So we'll talk after the scrimmage and see where we're at."
However, another quarterback will be added to the competition this fall. Kiehl Frazier, the nation's No. 5 dual-threat quarterback from the 2011 signing class, is anticipated to report this summer. According to Malzahn, he has a fair chance to get on his radar.
"I think all freshmen will get their shot early in fall camp," Malzahn said. "The thing about it, all the freshmen will have to impress us early. Probably a nine-, 10-practice deal that they'll have to come on."
The Tigers' final practice of the spring will be held Monday morning. After that, it will be up to players to hone their skills without the guidance of coaches.
Malzahn said he has installed about 50 percent of the offense so far.
"We're learning our players, they're learning the base system," Malzahn said. "Our goal is they get the core basis system down, the fundamentals, so they can practice on their own in the summer and actually get better instead of get worse. So that's kind of our thinking."
Since only the basics have been the focus this spring, the plays during A-Day won't be all that intricate.
"It will be vanilla," Malzahn said. "It won't be the 'whole deal' tomorrow. But still, it'll be good for our coaches to evaluate them. And the fans will be able to see some of the players try to make plays."
In particular, Malzahn is looking for how young players handle the pressure of playing in front of fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"They do either one of two things: Either they step up and rise to the occasion or you can see the nerves," Malzahn said. "So we'll find out a lot as coaches to see where we're at and see if they're ready."
Defense: Long way to go
With two practices, including A-Day, remaining on the spring schedule, defensive coordinator Ted Roof could be happier.
"I think we've made a lot of strides," Roof said. "I'm not satisfied where we are. We're certainly not where we need to be."
On the bright side, he's seen enough from his players to have a solid indication of where the defense is in terms of development.
"We know how to proceed with a plan for the summer in what our guys can handle, what we're good at and what we need to improve on," Roof said. "I think it's given us an accurate picture of where we are because the tape doesn't lie."
Even though A-Day is being treated as a regular scrimmage, there are certain things Roof will be looking at from players tomorrow.
"You evaluate base fundamentals, and you evaluate effort, you evaluate tracking angles, you evaluate all those types of things," Roof said. "But the offense isn't going to do everything they're going to do, and we're not going to do everything we're going to do next season. But it's certainly an important day because you have an opportunity to get better."
Playing in front of a crowd will also be important.
"It's a good thing because that's what they're going to have to do next year," Roof said. "They've got to get use to it, and a good lesson is to learn to block all of that out because those people aren't making any catches, they're not tackling anybody, they're not sacking anybody. To be able to block that out, and to be able to focus and concentrate on the job at hand…"
Having limited numbers this spring has forced Roof to move several players around on defense.
"You wish you didn't have to," Roof said. "But you do what you have to do, and we have to do that right now. You'd like to leave a guy in the same spot. But that's not where we are right now."
One of those players is linebacker Eltoro Freeman. The senior has experience at both weakside and strongside linebacker, but he's been working in the middle this spring.
"I think he's come a long way," Roof said. "I'm real pleased with him."
Freeman is working behind sophomore Jake Holland at the position. Also working in the middle is redshirt freshman Jake Westrich.
Depth will arrive this summer when the incoming class reports. Roof said coaches are in "constant contact" with those players to ensure they understand the expectation level.
"They're in the transition from high school to college, and it's a shock to almost everybody," Roof said. "But you want to prepare them by letting them know, and explaining it to them, what is going to happen. Sometimes words don't do it justice."
*** Although rotating the quarterbacks in tomorrow's A-Day may appear to make the evaluation process tough, Malzahn seems confident that he will be able to get the job done.
"We've put them in a lot of different situations," Malzahn said. "We've done red zone, we've done third downs, we've done base downs, put them through a lot of different things. The defense has been doing a lot of different things too, so what a quarterback can handle, different looks... We have enough information as far as evaluation of the quarterbacks."
*** The offensive line has undergone a major transformation considering the number of former scout-teamers competing for starting jobs. Malzahn said players were "mixed and matched" so the best five could be identified. He believes they're getting close to finding them.
"Any time you can start narrowing things down and put a guy in one position in our offense, they start getting comfortable," Malzahn said. "Communication is big in what we do. So we're starting to get closer to identifying who the top five are, and that's helped us probably the last week. You've really seen a difference as far as assignments and communication and execution."
*** As for center, Malzahn said there is "still a pretty good battle" going on at the position. Competing for the job is sophomore walk-on Blake Burgess, senior guard Jared Cooper and true freshman Reese Dismukes.
Regarding Dismukes, Malzahn believes he has improved each day.
"Anytime you should still be in high school and you're out here with college football players it's going to be a shock to your system early, then you'll get used to playing a little bit lower with pad level and the speed of the game," Malzahn said.
*** Burgess' week doesn't just consist of preparations for A-Day. The theater major is playing the role of Claudius in the university's production Hamlet based on the play by William Shakespeare. Friday's performance starts at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday's begins at 10 a.m.
*** Senior safety Neiko Thorpe said it's cool that NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip is racing the Auburn-themed paint scheme on his No. 15 car at Sunday's Talladega Superspeedway race. Thorpe wears the No. 15 jersey. However, he's not much of a NASCAR fan.
"I've seen it before like when they show the highlights on ESPN and stuff, but as far as watching it I don't even know how it goes," Thorpe said.
(They drive in circles.)
"That's it. That's the only part I know," Thorpe said. "I don't know how many laps. But I heard it's cool if you're there live."
*** A-Day is set for Saturday at 2 p.m. The unique scoring format has not yet been released. CSS will broadcast the game.