For many programs across the country, this year’s spring game will have no particular significance.
Fans will get the opportunity to tailgate, see the new team in action and return home to dream of a 15-0 season throughout the proverbial hibernation from college football.
That is not the case for Auburn.
This year’s A-Day game will signify a new beginning for the Tigers, one desperately needed after they stumbled through a disappointing season a year ago.
This was supposed to be the case last year.
Will Muschamp was brought in to deal with the defensive issues, and Jeremy Johnson had shown flashes of brilliance in his limited experience at quarterback in his first two seasons on the Plains.
Needless to say, things did not go according to plan.
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Johnson struggled early in the season and was benched in favor of then-redshirt freshman Sean White. The defense failed to show immediate improvement under Muschamp, surrendering over 400 yards per contest. Auburn finished at 7-6, well short of the sky-high expectations that many fans and pundits had for the Tigers.
This spring, coach Gus Malzahn has an opportunity, perhaps his final one, to hit the reset button.
He brought in five new assistant coaches to replace those who left for other schools. Most of the faces that will be new to Auburn fans are not to Malzahn himself.
Offensive line coach Herb Hand and linebackers coach Travis Williams have coached with Malzahn before, and wide receivers coach Kodi Burns played the position for the head coach during his time at Auburn.
With familiar faces around him, Malzahn has the tall task of returning his offense to the juggernaut it was in his first two seasons at Auburn.
Johnson and White have been given a clean slate to work with this spring, but they are not without competition, as JUCO transfer John Franklin III and redshirt freshman Tyler Queen are also vying for the starting nod.
The departures of the Tigers’ leading rusher and top two receivers from last year have created an abundance of opportunities for other offensive skill players, as well.
On defense, new coordinator Kevin Steele and his staff will have to find replacements for three starters at linebacker and two in the secondary.
With just one defensive assistant remaining from last year, young players will have a chance to play for new eyes and attempt to earn time on the field.
For the players who were successful last fall, such as Daniel Carlson, a finalist for the Groza Award, and Rudy Ford, who recorded the most tackles by an Auburn player in a season since 2001, the spring represents an opportunity to build on their strong play.
But for the team as a whole, the spring provides a chance to escape the memories of last year’s missed opportunities, poor play and ultimately, losses.
This spring provides a new beginning for the Tigers. The ending is theirs to write.
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