Sightings from Auburn’s preseason kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium

Auburn‘s season opener is a week away, with the Tigers’ 2022 debut against Mercer scheduled for next Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Bryan Harsin’s side took to the field on Saturday afternoon for a dress rehearsal of sorts – and a first chance for fans to check out this year’s squad, with Saturday serving as the second annual kick-off for the pre-season of the program. The practice was open to fans and the media, lasting around 90 minutes on Saturday afternoon.

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Here are AL.com’s observations and takeaways from the team’s pre-season kick-off:

— Wide receiver Koy Moore was back in practice after missing some time earlier in the week. He ran with the second group on offense almost all day.

– Center Nick Brahms remains absent, as his status for the start of the season remains up in the air. Defensive lineman Zykeivous Walker also did not participate in practice; he had a bandage on his leg.

– Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter underwent pre-practice warm-ups (an abbreviated summary of next week’s pre-game warm-ups) but were held off for the remainder of practice. Freshman Damari Alston got the first-team reps in their place.

– Austin Troxell also suffered early warm-ups but was held off. Like Bigsby and Hunter – and like Shedrick Jackson last week – it was likely a scheduled maintenance/rest day for the veteran right tackle. Brenden Coffey worked at right tackle with the starters in place of Troxell.

–TJ Finley remained the first quarterback in the rotation and received most of the first-team work. Robby Ashford was second in line, but he also rotated with the first-team attack. Zach Calzada remained third in the rotation and worked with the second team offense. Holden Geriner also got some second-team reps, but remained fourth in the rotation.

– No real surprises with the first-team defense, which had Derick Hall and Eku Leota on either edge, and Colby Wooden and Marcus Harris inside the line. Owen Pappoe and Cam Riley worked at linebacker. Donovan Kaufman was on the nickel, while Jaylin Simpson and Nehemiah Pritchett were on the outside at the corner. Zion Puckett and Cayden Bridges were back deep on safety, with Iowa State transfer Craig McDonald turning for Bridges at times.

– The first-team offense with Finley included Shedrick Jackson at the X, Malcolm Johnson Jr. at the Z and Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. in the slot. John Samuel Shenker was at his wit’s end. Along the offensive line, Kilian Zierer was at left tackle, Troxell was at right (until Coffey stepped in after warm-ups), Keiondre Jones was at right guard and Tate Johnson was at center. Brandon Council and Kam Stutts rotated to left guard.

– During warm-up, Oscar Chapman started a punt that bounced out of bounds inside the 1-yard line. It was an impressive investment.

— The training lasted 14 periods of 5 minutes each. The first period was a special teams home run, followed by ball safety in period 2 and tempo in period 3. During the tempo period, first-year wide receiver Camden Brown and tight end Luke Deal rotated with the first team attack.

– The second-team offense during the tempo was led by Ashford at quarterback, with Sean Jackson and Jordon Ingram rotating at running back. Ze’Vian Capers and Moore turned at receiver, along with Ja’Varrius Johnson. Deal and Brandon Frazier turned on tight end. The offensive line had Alec Jackson at left tackle, Jeremiah Wright and Jalil Irvin rotating at left guard, Avery Jernigan at center, Jones at right guard and Colby Smith at right tackle.

– Period 4 was special teams work, with a focus on punt returns. Returning reps went, in order: Ja’Varrius Johnson, Keionte Scott, Donovan Kaufman, Jay Fair and Dazalin Worsham.

— Period 5 was situational work in fourth and first place. Alston converted on a transfer from Finley on the first rep. On the second rep, Finley attempted a deep pass down the left sideline to Brown, who nearly went down with it, but Simpson interrupted him on the way down. Another fine ball from Finley.

— Calzada ran with the second unit in the fourth and first period. Sean Jackson was stuffed with a transfer on the first rep, then Ingram converted on the second attempt. Calzada tucked the ball in and rushed to convert on the third down.

— Periods 6 to 8 were individual assignments. The QB/RB combos were: Finley/Bigsby, Ashford/Hunter, Calzda/Alston, Geriner/Ingram. Jackson did not participate in this period as he was checked by coaches on the sidelines. He looked fine and returned to the field soon after.

— In individual periods, Anders Carlson and Alex McPherson worked for 50, 52 and 55 yards. Both showed off their strong legs and punched through a few of the attempts. Looked like a few of them went off.

— During passing drills, the quarterback rotation remained the same: Finley, Ashford, Calzada, Geriner. Finley again looked the most consistent, although there was a fall from Ja’Varrius Johnson on a slope. Ashford had one pass he made on a road, but otherwise looked solid.

— Period 9 was more situational work. The situation: Second and 8 from the 40-yard line. Ashford got the first team representatives during this period. His first snap was a broken play that caused him to throw the ball away. On the third and 8 of the next snap, he hit Ja’Varrius Johnson on an out but was out of sticks. Geriner then stepped in with the second team attack. Ingram ran for 5 yards on second-and-8, then Geriner attempted a pass to Ingram out of the backfield on third-and-3.

– Auburn then went to work in the red zone: fourth and goal of 9 for a rep. Ashford was chased out of the pocket by Dylan Brooks and then kicked a pass into the back of the end zone.

– Period 10 was the work of the special teams, with an emphasis on kick-offs and kick-off returns. Auburn had six players in deep rotation on returns. Hunter and Alston got the first rep, followed by Pritchett and Moore. Fair and Scott also rotated, but Auburn shuffled the pairings after the first two reps. Hunter and Fair had an opportunity together, then Scott and Alston on the final rep.

– While everyone was working on the kickoffs, offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau was working with the quarterbacks in the north zone. They first worked on throwing while running to their right and hitting a target in the end zone. Ashford had one pass which he went over the target, but the rest of his attempts, as well as those from Finley, Calzada and Geriner were on target.

– The QBs then worked to hit the crossbar on one-step drops from behind the end zone. The drill seemed to focus on getting high clearance to dodge balls hit down the line.

— The last three periods were offensive versus defensive. Finley had the first opportunity with ones, then Ashford rotated. Ashford made a fine pass through the middle to John Samuel Shenker in his first practice. He also managed to finish Worsham in a go-for-go situation, but Worsham fell short of the end zone despite a fine jumping hold. At one point, Finley made a nice runaway throw to freshman tight end Micah Riley-Ducker. This was followed by a nice ball to Ze’Vian Capers in the end zone, with Simpson in cover, but Capers dropped the pass. Finley was then picked up by Kaufman near the goal line on a pass intended for Fair.

– Practice ended with Calzada being “fired” by freshman linebacker Robert Woodyard.

Tom Green is an Auburn Beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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