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What to watch for as Auburn begins 2015 spring football practice

Auburn University head football coach Gus Malzahn addresses his team during practice (Photo: YouTube)
Auburn University head football coach Gus Malzahn addresses his team during practice (Photo: YouTube)

With the Tigers set to begin spring practice Tuesday, here are a few things to look for as Gus Malzahn and co. begin to develop the 2015 version of Auburn football.

Key Returning Players

Duke Williams – 45 receptions, 730 yards, 5 TD.
Williams led the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns in 2014. At 6’2″ 216 pounds, he is a physical receiver with the potential to be selected early in next year’s NFL draft. When healthy, Williams is a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, and will only improve going into his senior season.

Shon Coleman – Started at Left Tackle in 2014.
Coleman was a big-time recruit coming out of Olive Branch, Mississippi. He was solid in 2014 — his first year as a starter — and could develop into an elite LT in his junior campaign.

Cassanova McKinzy – Lead the team in TFL in 2014, and recorded 91 total tackles.
McKinzy has room to improve at inside linebacker, but he has shown the potential to be a force for the Auburn defense.

Jonathan Jones – 6 INT’s and 11 pass break ups in 2014. 2nd team All SEC CB.
Jones was a surprise breakout player on the 2014 Auburn defense. He should be among the elite corners in the SEC as a senior in 2015.

Carl Lawson – Did not play due to injury in 2014.
Lawson’s preseason injury was a major blow to the Tiger’s defense last season. The former 5 star recruit will return in 2015 and will provide a major boost to the defense. When healthy, Lawson is one of the elite defensive line talents in all of college football.

What To Watch For

Under center, Jeremy Johnson enters the spring as Nick Marshall’s heir apparent, but the pro-style quarterback will be pushed by backups Sean White and Jason Smith. Johnson has assumed a leadership role during the offseason, organizing voluntary workouts with receivers to prepare them for a new look to Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense.

With the Tigers expected to focus more on the passing game in 2015, Johnson’s development will be perhaps the most important part of the spring for Auburn’s offense.

Barring injury, the Tigers’ stable of running backs is full of thoroughbreds.

Roc Thomas showed signs of being a big-time running back during his freshman season in 2014. Jovon Robinson is an elite junior college transfer and early enrollee that will likely make a huge impact as a ball carrier this season. Peyton Barber may be a little under the radar compared to the other two, but the redshirt freshman is also very talented and will compete for a role in the backfield.

The Tigers are in good shape on the offensive line heading into spring, returning 3 starters, and getting All-America hopeful Alex Kozan back from a weightlifting injury that sidelined him all of last season. However, the competition for the open spots will be wide open.

The most exciting aspect of spring football for Auburn fans this season could be the arrival of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. The competition is expected to be intense at every spot on defense. Auburn returns six starters from a year ago, but has several spots to be filled in the two-deep scheme.

Muschamp’s tenure at Florida was underwhelming, but he is unquestionably one of the college game’s top defensive minds. He’ll have his work cut out for him. The SEC West will once again be stacked, with Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas all ranked in the top 10 of the Preseason FPI.

Auburn begins practice Tuesday, and will practice each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday leading up to the spring game on April 18, with a pause for spring break March 22nd through the 28th.

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