Auburn football 2022: Bryan Harsin reveals details from Tigers' first preseason scrimmage

·3 min read

AUBURN — Auburn football held its first preseason scrimmage Saturday night, three weeks out from the Tigers' season opener. It was a crucial juncture for the quarterback competition.

Second-year coach Bryan Harsin shared details from the scrimmage, which was closed to media in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Quarterback evaluation: Finley first

Quarterbacks were not live with the rest of the team, meaning they couldn't be tackled in the scrimmage. That makes it more difficult to gauge the validity of every "sack" – and more difficult to evaluate one quarterback in particular, the dual-threat Oregon transfer Robby Ashford.

"That's the give and take; this is the thing that (stinks) about being the head coach," Harsin said. "You want to protect your quarterbacks. ... But the competitive juices in both guys on the edge and the quarterback, you want to see that."

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Harsin tipped that T.J. Finley was the first quarterback to take reps. The junior led a 14-play drive on the first possession of the scrimmage.

Finley struggled with some of his "easier throws," from an accuracy standpoint, Harsin said, but the coach isn't particularly concerned about that blip because he sees it as an easier fix.

"He's very much like a coach on the field," Harsin said. "Conceptually, he picks things up very quickly. Listens to the details and all the nuances on plays. If there's a coaching point, not just for him but for anybody, he'll remember that coaching point and be able to echo it whenever it comes up."

As for how the scrimmage affected his view of the quarterback competition, Harsin was mum, saying he needs to watch the scrimmage again on film.

"It's not just, 'Hey, that guy throws the ball perfectly, or the best every time,'" Harsin said. "You want that, but how did he operate? ... There's a lot more factors."

Harsin told quarterbacks before the scrimmage that he wanted to see them lead, and he was focused on observing their decision-making.

Three standout newcomers

The coach hand-picked two true freshmen as standouts: running Damari Alston and wide receiver Camden Brown.

"Camden's a young guy who's catching our eye right now," he said. Brown scored a touchdown and is the most likely freshman to crack the two-deep, which Harsin said he and the coaching staff will begin to narrow this week with the scrimmage as evidence.

Alston is less likely to play this season behind Tank Bigsby and Jarquez Hunter, but "he had a good feel for what the O-line was doing and was just kind of getting into a groove," Harsin said.

The offensive line didn't allow many negative plays in the run game. Harsin was pleased with his running backs having the opportunity to break tackles for the first time. "(Bigsby) was running really powerful," he said.

On defense, Iowa State safety transfer Craig McDonald returned a fumble 95 yards for a touchdown during red-zone simulations at the end of the scrimmage.

Injuries? None for now

"We don't have anybody out as far as surgeries," Harsin said. There have been small bumps and bruises, but nothing yet that will affect who is able to play against Mercer on Sept. 3 (6 p.m. CT, ESPN+).

Senior kicker Anders Carlson made all four field goal attempts, another sign of progress after he tore his ACL last November against Mississippi State. Harsin and special teams coach Roc Bellantoni expect Carlson will be ready for the opener.

The scrimmage was also linebacker Owen Pappoe's first opportunity to take live reps after nagging lower body injuries sidelined the former five-star recruit through most of last season and this spring.

"Owen looked like Owen," Harsin said, smiling. "He made some plays."

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Auburn football 2022: Bryan Harsin's take on QBs in preseason scrimmage