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September 3, 2013

A farewell and a new beginning: War Eagle Extra is moving

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Nothing lasts forever.

This holds true for anything in life, and War Eagle Extra is no exception. The article you are reading is the final piece of content that will be posted to this blog. Have no fear, though. War Eagle Extra isn’t going away — it’s just moving. Yes, five years after staking out on its own, War Eagle Extra is being integrated back into the Ledger-Enquirer’s homepage.

It’s been quite a run, comprising five different beat writers (David Ching, Andy Bitter, Joel Erickson, Aaron Brenner and myself) and totaling close to 4,800 posts. Auburn is now working on its third different football coach during that span, which began in the final season of the Tommy Tuberville era, with a national title and a fired coach (Gene Chizik) bridging the gap to current head man Gus Malzahn.

Aside from the pages looking slightly different, you shouldn’t notice any variation as readers. The content won’t change. You’ll still be able to read the notebooks, features and other articles about Auburn’s football team as well as watch video of their interviews.

Don’t view this as an end as much as a new beginning.

In an ode to the blog’s past, I’m reminded how War Eagle Extra’s first reporter, Ching, ended his introductory post: “This should be a lot of fun…”

Click here to visit War Eagle Extra’s new home. Take a look around. Looks pretty similar, doesn’t it?

So join me as we begin our transition and begin to (literally) write the next chapter in War Eagle Extra’s history.

It should be a lot of fun.

September 2, 2013

SEC Power Rankings: Week 2

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

Not a ton of movement from our preseason rankings, as many of the opening weekend’s games went the way most predicted.

Two quick notes before getting started:SEC_new_logo

  • The rankings/receiving votes (designated by “RV”) are from the Associated Press poll.
  • Secondly, the landing spot for each team is a combination of how good I perceive each team to be in relation to the rest of the conference, with a dash of last week’s results thrown in, too. However, the former takes precedence. One example: Just because Tennessee and Missouri whupped up on tomato cans Saturday doesn’t mean they’ll rank above Georgia, which lost a tight game to a top-10 Clemson squad. Again, everything is relative.

(All games times ET)

1) No. 1 Alabama (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Virginia Tech 35-10

No, Saturday wasn’t the most convincing win Alabama has had in a season opener since Nick Saban assumed the reins of the program. It certainly didn’t come close to matching last year’s 41-14 decimation of then-No. 8 Michigan. The offense showed it needs work, and the Crimson Tide was helped immensely by Christion Jones’ punt and kick return touchdowns. But complaining about a 25-point win against a team from another major conference — especially versus a school with a winning tradition like Virginia Tech — is basically nitpicking. Then again, that’s just the absurdly-high standard Alabama is being held to these days.

Next: Idle

2) No. 6 South Carolina (1-0)

Last week: won vs. North Carolina 27-10

South Carolina jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and cruised from there. Jadeveon Clowney didn’t dominate, as he finished with just three tackles, but it’s not as if North Carolina was running it straight at him every play, either. He also looked a bit winded at times, but I’d chalk that up to the stomach virus he was reportedly battling the night before.

Hey, even Superman had kryptonite.

Next: at No. 5 Georgia (0-1), 4:30 p.m. | ESPN

3) No. 7 Texas A&M (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Rice 52-31

Johnny Football did what Johnny Football does best, Part I: create points. He threw three touchdowns (on just eight attempts) in the second half after sitting out the game’s first 30 minutes, serving his NCAA penalty for what was called an “inadvertent” violation of signing autographs during the offseason.

Johnny Football did what Johnny Football does best, Part II: create controversy. He was pulled after getting flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter. This followed an earlier exchange with another Rice defender, where Manziel mimicked signing an autograph. (Oy vey.)

While Manziel’s antics can easily be toned down — it’s not that hard, I swear — the bigger worry for the Aggies should be fixing their defense. Six starters on defense were suspended from playing in the first half for undisclosed violations of team rules. The unit was already a question mark heading into the season. Saturday did little to help that in the way of playing time. Needless to say, if Texas A&M gives up 31 points when Alabama comes to town on Sept. 15, it likely means the Aggies will end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Next: vs. Sam Houston State (1-0), 7 p.m. | Texas A&M PPV

4) No. 12 LSU (1-0)

Last week: won vs. No. 20 TCU 37-27

A pretty good debut for Cam Cameron as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator: 448 yards (251 passing, 197 rushing) against a Horned Frogs’ team that prides itself on defense.Auburn v. LSU Football Action

While quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s numbers weren’t spectacular, accounting for just one touchdown and completing 50 percent (16 of 32) of his attempts, those should only improve going forward.

Next: vs. UAB (0-1), 7 p.m. | ESPNU

5) No. 5 Georgia (0-1)

Last week: lost to No. 8 Clemson 38-35

Another close loss for Georgia in a big game to begin the season. What’s new? It didn’t eliminate the Bulldogs from national title contention yet.

But a loss to South Carolina this weekend will.

Next: vs. No. 6 South Carolina (1-0), 4:30 p.m. | ESPN

6) No. 10 Florida (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Toledo 24-6

Between Jeff Driskel (finally) looking like a semi-effective SEC quarterback and backup tailback Mack Brown‘s career day, Florida’s offense didn’t resemble the unit that couldn’t score to save its life last season. (Apologies to Mike Gillislee.)

Surprisingly, a defense that ranked fifth in the country last season and had to replace eight starters and its coordinator (Dan Quinn) didn’t appear to miss a beat.

Next: at Miami (FL) (1-0), Noon | ESPN

7) RV Ole Miss (1-0, 1-0 SEC)

Last week: won vs. Vanderbilt 39-35

The Rebels finally ended their three-game losing streak to the Commodores. When was the last time any SEC team had such a run of futility against the Commodores?

Now they’ll get to enjoy a breather against Southeast Missouri State before their schedule begins in earnest, with five games in six weeks. There’s not a single “gimme” among them: at Texas, at Alabama and at Auburn before returning home to host Texas A&M and LSU.

Whew!

Next: vs. Southeast Missouri State (0-1), 7 p.m. | Ole Miss PPV

8) Auburn (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Washington State 31-24

Gus Malzahn was able to walk off the field a winner Saturday night, but judging from fan feedback following the game, Auburn supporters were expecting far more. It appears they were just echoing Malzahn’s own thoughts. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said in his postgame press conference, “but we’re committed to doing that.”

Translation: “I’m happy we won, but it was touch-and-go until the Cougars’ last possession. It’s going to be a long week at practice.”

Next: vs. Arkansas State (1-0), 7:30 p.m. | FSN

9) RV Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-1 SEC)

Last week: lost to Ole Miss 39-35

There was no reason for Jordan Matthews to hang his head last Thursday. The senior receiver left it all on the field, catching 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown against the Rebels. Even his own body couldn’t slow him down, as he went off the field for intravenous fluids early in the third quarter. It was one of the gutsier performances you’ll ever see.

Next: vs. Austin Peay (0-1), 7:30 p.m. | CSS

10) Arkansas (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Louisiana-Lafayette 34-14

It’s easy to poke fun at Bret Bielema’s expense, for far too many reasons to detail here. What’s no laughing matter is how the Razorbacks won on Saturday, easily dispatching the Ragin’ Cajuns by 20 points. Don’t let the name fool you: Louisiana-Lafeyette was coming off back-to-back 9-4 campaigns and considered the co-favorite (along with Louisiana-Monroe) to capture the Sun Belt Conference title this season.

Next: vs. Samford (1-0) in Little Rock, 7 p.m. | Arkansas PPV

11) Tennessee (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Austin Peay 45-0

Look, I know it was just Austin Peay. But considering a Pop Warner team could have scored on Tennessee’s defense last season, the Volunteers will take a shutout any way they can get it. Tennessee doesn’t care that the Governors have lost 17 consecutive road games, either, with Austin Peay’s last win away from home coming against Tennessee State on Sept. 18, 2010.

Whatever negativity you want to throw the Volunteers’ way right now will fall on deaf ears. They’re in a Kendrick Lamar state of mind: Don’t kill their vibe.

Next: vs. Western Kentucky (1-0), 12:21 p.m. | SEC Network

12) Missouri (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Murray State 58-14

Quarterback James Franklin threw for 300-plus yards for the third time in his career, finishing with 318 yards (completing 26 of 38 attempts) and three touchdowns in a little more than two quarters of work. This was different than his previous two 300-plus efforts in one respect: The Tigers actually won this time.

Toledo should provide a little better gauge of where Missouri is at this weekend, but the Tigers won’t see an SEC opponent until going on the road against Vanderbilt on Oct. 5. (Gotta get those non-conference wins while you can, I suppose.)

Next: vs. Toledo (0-1), 3:30 p.m. | ESPNU

13) Mississippi State (0-1)

Last week: lost to No. 13 Oklahoma State 21-3

It’s hard to come up with any positives for the Bulldogs. They went just two of 16 on third-down conversions. They racked up only 333 yards of total offense. Starting quarterback Tyler Russell left the game in the third quarter after taking a shot to the head and did not return.

The loss just continues the downward trend for Dan Mullen’s squad: Since starting last season 7-0, the Bulldogs are 1-7 in their past eight contests.

Next: vs. Alcorn State (1-0), 3:30 p.m. | CSS

14) Kentucky (0-1)

Last week: lost to Western Kentucky 35-26

Welp, that went about as horribly as the Wildcats could have scripted it for their opening game under Mark Stoops. Not only did they lose to the Hilltoppers — led by former Louisville and Arkansas head coach and noted motorcycle enthusiast Bobby Petrino — but they were thoroughly outclassed by their Sun Belt foe. Western Kentucky scored on three of its first four possessions, with each covering 75 yards or more.

One silver lining: Basketball season is getting closer every day. So there’s that.

Next: vs. Miami (OH) (0-1), Noon | Fox Sports

September 1, 2013

THE GRADES ARE IN: Assessing Auburn’s 31-24 victory versus Washington State

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Some good things happened for Auburn on Saturday night.

Some not-so-good instances occurred, too.

Auburn was able to celebrate a victory in its season opener against Washington State on Saturday night. But how did they fare on Ryan Black's report card?

Auburn’s Robenson Therezie (27), Tre Mason (21) and the rest of the Tigers were able to celebrate a victory after a victory in the season opener against Washington State on Saturday night. But how did they fare on Ryan Black’s report card? (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Irrespective of the final stats or big plays they produced or allowed, the Tigers accomplished their sole objective against Washington State: They won, beating the Cougars 31-24 in the season opener. It was far from easy, though, as the game’s fate hung in the balance deep into the fourth quarter. Auburn was finally able to breath easy when Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday misfired on a fourth-and-five attempt from the Tigers’ 27-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, as his pass wasn’t close to any receiver.

Tre Mason took care of the rest. He picked up a pair of first downs to help the Tigers set up a “victory formation” and give head coach Gus Malzahn a win in his first game on the Plains.

So, in the aftermath of Saturday night, we’ll head to the report card.

This will be done every Sunday following Auburn’s game the previous day. You might not agree with the grades, but the comments section is there for a reason.

Let’s begin.

OFFENSE: B-

For those paying close attention, this is the same grade Nick Marshall gave when asked to take stock of his performance on Saturday. First, the good news: The Tigers did as everyone expected, staying committed to the ground game, totaling 297 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Auburn spread the wealth, as four different players — Corey Grant, Cameron Artis-Payne, Mason and Marshall — touched the ball at least nine times. We all knew how deep the backfield was heading into the game, and Saturday provided on-field proof of those preconceived notions.

Now, the bad news. Those who watched the game saw this coming from a mile away, and that is … (Hold on a second. Marshall just overthrew another receiver before I could finish the last sentence.) Joking aside, Auburn’s signal-caller had a solid game, at least in the realm of his decision-making and not turning the ball over. That being said, Marshall had the potential to put together an even better game through the air if he just reined himself in a bit. He overthrew countless open receivers, including three great opportunities to score on the same drive late in the third quarter. The Tigers eventually ended up punting the ball away.

On Saturday, Marshall’s misfires didn’t sink the Tigers’ hopes at victory.

It might not come back to haunt them next week against Arkansas State, either. But the Tigers can’t afford to be one-dimensional when they get into the heart of their SEC schedule and reasonably expect to win.

DEFENSE: B

Yes, the Tigers allowed 464 yards of total offense. And yes, 344 of those yards came through the air. However, they also intercepted the ball three times — one more than they had all of last season — and gave up only one passing touchdown. The reason for this grade, then, is that even though it took the Cougars 35 completions to rack up those 344 yards, they still averaged nearly a first down per completed pass, at 9.8 yards per catch.

Auburn also gave up far more on the ground than anyone would have expected; Washington State averaged right at 29 rushing yards per game last season, the lowest in Division I. Saturday night, the Cougars had nearly 100 yards more than that, finishing with 120. And after scoring only six rushing touchdowns in 12 games last year, Washington State had two against Auburn, matching the Tigers’ own total.

Finally, if not for true freshman Montravius Adams playing well beyond his years, Auburn’s push up front would have been non-existent. Time and again, Halliday was allowed ample time to look downfield and hit open receivers. If the Tigers’ pass-rush doesn’t improve dramatically in the weeks to come, they likely won’t be able to escape with a victory like they did on Saturday.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A+

There is no need for nitpicking here, especially given everything the Tigers did right. To wit: They scored on a 100-yard kickoff return by Mason. Cody Parkey had five touchbacks, with only one returned kick, which was taken back 30 yards. The senior place kicker also went 3-for-4 on his field goal attempts, only missing from 50 yards out. The Tigers also didn’t have a punt return against them. Needless to say, no unit was more stout than special teams Saturday night.

OVERALL: A

There were some tense moments, but those are to be expected. As defensive line coach Rodney Garner would say, football “is a bottom-line business.” The Tigers won Saturday night. Period.

Everything else is meaningless by comparison.

August 30, 2013

Commentary: Don’t get caught up in ‘numbers game’ Saturday

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Forget the numbers.

Look, I know it will be hard. After all, we’ve been bombarded with them non-stop during Auburn’s offseason. It can overwhelm the mind if one stops to think about it; the list is dizzying. The statistics click by at a pace that would please Gus Malzahn.

Ryan Black

Ryan Black

Nick Marshall threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns at Garden City Community College last season.

He ran for 1,095 yards and 19 touchdowns.

The Tigers allowed opponents to rack up 420.5 yards per game on them last year.

Auburn wants to run as many plays as possible this fall — and for comparison’s sake, last season’s leader was Marshall, which had 92.8 offensive snaps per game.

It goes on and on.

But no statistic has been cited more often that the Tigers’ record in 2012: 3-9. A win Saturday against Washington State could go a long way toward finally putting last season to bed. Malzahn isn’t necessarily putting any additional pressure on himself or the team — at least not publicly.

Not that it should come as any surprise. Malzahn isn’t the type for bluster.

Even he had to admit it would be nice to begin his tenure at Auburn with a victory, though.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the first game or any game,” he said. “I want us to play. I want us to do things right, to be disciplined and protect the football, play hard. It’s no different than any other (game), but I think it’s common sense. We’ve got a team that had great struggles last year, so definitely it’d be great to get off to a good start.”

And if the Tigers are going emerge with a ‘W’ in Game Numero Uno, it will ultimately rest with Malzahn. Two men will have a say in the offense’s play-calling. Not surprisingly, numbers come into play here, too — it’s a matter of simple subtraction.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will speak his piece. Malzahn will think about it. And then Malzahn will decide which play to run.

Some Tigers might have to settle for being a little disappointed their number — yes, there’s that word again — isn’t called often. Since Malzahn prefers to lean more toward the run, Auburn’s receivers will have to make the most of their opportunities in the passing game.

Then again, anything beats last season. No player has said it yet, but reading between the lines, it’s easy to deduce: They loathed Scot Loeffler’s pro-style system, which produced a putrid 18.7 points per game.

Yep, more stats.

They’re just impossible to avoid.

Similarly, receiver Quan Bray tiptoed around the elephant in the room regarding Loeffler’s less-than-stellar — to put it nicely — offensive output last year.

No, that’s not Bray’s way.

Like a good company man, he chose to emphasize what he liked about the hurry-up, no-huddle scheme the Tigers will use this fall.

“We have a lot spread guys,” the junior receiver said. “For (Malzahn) to come back, it’s a great thing because we have a lot of speed on the inside and on the outside and we’ve got a lot of playmakers at every position.”

So what kind of — wait for it — numbers will the Tigers tally in the opener?

Bray wasn’t shy about giving his take. Heck, he’s already thrown a number (yes, again) out there for Saturday: He wants to see the Tigers put 70 points on the board.

A lofty goal, if nothing else. A bit misguided, but lofty nonetheless.

Anyone focusing on the Tigers’ point total Saturday is missing the point.

Call it the Reverse Grantland Rice Theory.

When people look back on Saturday’s contest one day, they won’t care how the Tigers played the game.

What will matter is whether the Tigers won or lost.

It’s a harsh truth, but numbers show no favoritism.

Unlike most statistics, it’s an adage worth remembering.

August 29, 2013

LIVE CHAT: 3 p.m. Thursday

It’s Thursday, so let’s live chat one last time before Auburn takes on Washington State in the season opener in a little more than 48 hours.

August 26, 2013

SEC Power Rankings Rewind

By next Monday, the opening week of college football will be in the books. At that time — and with the benefit of being able to research and analyze the outcome of each game  Ryan Black will have a new batch of SEC power rankings. Until then, let’s revisit his preseason poll entering the 2013 campaign, which provided a (hyperbolic) “best-case/worst-case” scenario for all 14 teams in the league, counting them down two at a time.SEC_new_logo

Links to each of the seven articles in the countdown are available by clicking on the respective school below.

SEC POWER RANKINGS

1. Alabama

2. South Carolina

3. Georgia

4. Texas A&M

5. LSU

6. Florida

7. Ole Miss

8. Vanderbilt

9. Auburn

10. Mississippi State

11. Missouri

12. Arkansas

13. Tennessee

14. Kentucky

August 21, 2013

Replay Thursday’s live chat

If it’s a Thursday, you know we’re live chatting about Auburn football. It’s at 3 p.m. ET, so I hope you’ll be able to join in. The more the merrier, as they say.

May 2, 2013

BRENNER: SEC, ESPN have room to boast

2Auburn1 (1)

ATLANTA – If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

And the SEC’s got plenty of it – whatever you choose it to be. Money, titles, bravado, famous coaches and players, money, support of its fans, envy of its rivals. And money.

There’s public relations, and then there’s a parade of champions strutting across the stage in an expansive ballroom at a ritzy downtown hotel in Atlanta just to illustrate how good the Southeastern Conference has it.

Then there’s ESPN officials on the dais and around the room with a “we’re better than you” look on their faces – heck, its president even took a not-so-subtle shot at any foe from FOX or NBC who dares challenge the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

There’s no question: with Thursday’s official announcement of the SEC ESPN Network, the rich executives get richer, the strong recruiters get stronger.

Was the presentation over the top? Eh, maybe a little. Showing a video montage opening with the line, “The most powerful conference in college sports,” is fairly bold – especially when Forbes reported in January the SEC’s profits trail the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC.

Are the prime officials overly confident? Time will tell. SEC commissioner Mike Slive’s not out of line to call this “The Golden Age of the SEC” – and by the way, props on dropping an Aesop fable (“The level of success is limited only by our imagination. And using our imagination, the SEC has dreamed big.”)

But it takes more than imagination to sway the powerful organizations who make ESPN available to consumers.

So AT&T U-verse is on board. Whoop-de-do. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association estimates that takes care of 4.5 million viewers nationwide.

Meanwhile, Comcast, Time Warner, DISH Network and DirecTV combine for 68 million subscribers. Those fat cats won’t necessarily hand the SEC and ESPN what they want – not right away, at least.

Good thing opening night’s not for 15 months, but those negotiations better start sooner rather than later. Just ask the Big Ten and Pac-12 how difficult it is to get their ducks in a row and avoid angering fans who can’t watch their favorite team immediately.

But speaking of the Big Ten Network, apparently SEC/ESPN leaders have a little trouble with the memory bank. ESPN president John Skipper said “We’re quite confident this is a new and unique opportunity and nothing like this has been done before,” adding reasons in his head how this is different – even though it really isn’t.

Look, for the sake of SEC fans, they should trust Slive, Skipper, SEC Network boss Justin Connolly to integrate this smoothly into your household by next year.

They hold the privilege of self-promotion. Success comes with rewards.

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

April 18, 2013

BRENNER: Final roll call won’t seem real

Toomer's Oaks

AUBURN, Ala. – The out-of-towner sat relaxed, patiently awaiting a friend’s arrival for dinner on the porch adjacent to a couple of oak trees.

The pair of students, leaving class on a Tuesday afternoon, walked past a couple of iconic symbols of loyalty, history and victory.

All in the eye of the beholder.

The famed corner occupied by Toomer’s Oaks for decades is awash in the sun’s rays on a perfect spring day – a nearby bank clock reads 87 degrees, and it is a comfortable 87 at that.

One jogger zips down Magnolia Avenue, a large “13.1” printed on her lime green shirt. The number represents a half-marathon, and runners everywhere are still numb from yesterday’s shock. It’s Tuesday afternoon, 24 hours after bombs exploded along the finish line at the Boston Marathon killing a few, crippling hundreds and terrifying millions.

The cruel reminder of what we all hold most dear doesn’t ease the local pain of what’s to come.

Another jogger, on the opposite side of the street, ceases her pace for a few split seconds. She pulls out her iPhone, plugged into her headphones as musical accompaniment, and aims it at the Oaks, capturing a cherished image while she can before resuming her journey.

Four days remain before the annual spring scrimmage, and four days before thousands descend upon this spot for “One Last Roll.” The sidewalk banners displayed implore fans, students, alumni and observers to join in the night of April 20 to say goodbye, when streams of toilet paper shall fill the night sky the way they did to celebrate a championship in January 2011 and so much more often.

It’s Tuesday afternoon. This time next week, Auburn will no longer have her Oaks. The heart of campus will be cut down, distributed as artifacts and replaced with a small outdoor gallery telling its tale.

They say tradition never dies. These Oaks tried their hardest not to, appearing to sprout a few desperate leaves a few years after their vitriolic poisoning, like a fourth-quarter touchdown facing a 40-point deficit.

The pair of marble statues flank the Oaks, a pair of eagles situated atop columns watching over the trees. If there’s any ritual that compares to the rolling of Toomer’s Oaks, it’s the majestic bird’s flight that can’t be contaminated. When tragedy strikes a family, they tend to rally around what’s left behind, which means those cries of ‘War Eagle’ might be louder than ever before this fall.

The out-of-town observer can learn, can listen, can respect the meaning of Toomer’s Corner. But he’ll never truly understand it like true Auburn men and women do.

The two girls with backpacks glance at the area. One says to her companion, “yeah, I don’t know what they’ll do with it.”

The other: “I don’t know what they should do.”

It’s Tuesday afternoon. With less than a week left, it still doesn’t seem real.

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

ToomersCorner

April 11, 2013

Brenner: Patience is a virtue as Auburn spring football practices play out before our eyes

10Auburn8

AUBURN, Ala. – Three A-Days ago, Cam Newton only threw eight passes. Completed three.

Florida fans questioned Tim Tebow’s ability to go from gimmick to general for the 2007 season. Sam Bradford’s 2008 spring game at Oklahoma was marred by three interceptions; Johnny Manziel failed to complete half his passes and averaged just 5.7 yards an attempt in last year’s Texas A&M spring game.

Would four future Heisman winners be enough to sway you on where this is going?

I can’t sit here and tell you spring doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t, they wouldn’t bother with the activity – or at least we fans and media wouldn’t be dumb enough to squeeze four to six weeks of coverage and attention out of it. (Would we? Don’t answer that.)

But we’ve got to stop expecting any coaching staff – especially a brand-new one like Auburn’s, with very little preconceived notions of the existing players – to have answers for us without delay.

It’s a now-now-now world, where we stomp our feet like Veruca Salt and demand a depth chart this instant.

I roll my eyes at coachspeak as much as the next guy, but I can buy into any coach who downplays any questions about an inside linebacker playing outside or a third-string skill player gets a few snaps with the second-stringers.

Here’s where I think we can read into spring developments:

- Major position changes, like if a receiver starts playing cornerback or something. In this year’s case, I think Justin Garrett standing out at Ellis Johnson’s ‘star’ safety position in the 4-2-5 is quite significant.

- Guys missing significant time due to injury. Should Tre Mason be worried that his left leg injury is giving coaches more time to love Cameron Artis-Payne? It’s not unheard of for incumbent starters to lose their gig due to spring absence.

- Altered body types from the previous season. CJ Uzomah looks cut and ready to be a matchup nightmare. Kiehl Frazier looks like he needs to regain some athleticism after gaining weight in the offseason – he says he’ll burn it off quickly, but actions speak louder than words.

Other than that, it’s all conjecture. Yeah, it’s fun for water-cooler talk, but that’s about it.

Ultimately, these 15 practices in Auburn – and Arkansas, and Tennessee and Kentucky, come to mention it – are icebreakers in the heat of a Southern spring.

The “evaluation period” – apologies for coachspeak rubbing off – gives Johnson and Dameyune Craig and Rodney Garner an opportunity to see who fits the schemes Auburn’s installing five months from now.

Spring ball’s a nice appetizer to fill a month, an interlude bridging March Madness to summer vacation.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com