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Evaluating QB Robby Ashford presents challenges for Hugh Freeze, Philip Montgomery

Justin Hokansonby:Justin Hokanson04/02/23

_JHokanson

AUBURN — While Auburn continues to search for its starting quarterback for next fall, the conundrum of trying to properly evaluate Robby Ashford remains a question that head coach Hugh Freeze and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery face.

The main issue involves Ashford’s athletic ability and how to accurately factor that into the Great Quarterback Debate.

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Ashford passed for 1,613 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, all while completing 49 percent of his passes. At the same time, Ashford rushed for 710 yards and seven more touchdowns in 12 games, topping 100 yards rushing twice in the last four games.

How do you value a quarterback’s ability to create in designed runs and scramble situations when practice consists of little tackling, and certainly no tackling of the quarterbacks? It’s a legitimate question, but fortunate for Auburn, one that Freeze and Montgomery have both faced head on before.

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At Liberty, Freeze landed a quarterback named Malik Willis after he transferred from Auburn. Willis ended up rushing for over 1,800 yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons at Liberty. Freeze remembers having significant question marks around Willis’ abilities because of limited experience during his brief stint at Auburn. But it only took one game situation to see what Willis brought to the table.

“We get into the first game and it was against the defending champions of our Conference USA, I guess they were in at the time, Western Kentucky who I think does a great job and we’re in the fourth quarter and this guy rips off three throws, pulls down a zone read and runs for 30-40 yards and looks like a tailback when he ran it,” Freeze said.

Meanwhile, about 10 years earlier at Baylor, Montgomery coached and developed a player named Robert Griffin III, who went on to win the Heisman while rushing for over 2,200 yards and 33 touchdowns in his college career. Montgomery understands the frustration Ashford likely faces at times.

“It’s frustrating for a guy like Robby who has a lot of athletic ability to him,” Montgomery said. “When he breaks out of that pocket, good things can happen for us. You don’t get to see the aspect and element that will play into games. You have to make sure you’re looking at that in a proper way when you’re moving forward. He can really make some plays with his feet. We’ll continue to keep seeing that part of it.”

RELATED: MONTGOMERY ON WHY THE ‘RPO’ GAME IS SLOWING DEVELOPMENT

Robby Ashford missed practice time last week after shoulder soreness resulted in a precautionary MRI on his throwing shoulder. Immediately before that, Freeze said Ashford enjoyed his best spring practice of camp. The point is, when it comes to Ashford, there’s clearly an unknown factor for Freeze and Montgomery to take into consideration.

“I don’t know because I haven’t witnessed it in the games,” Freeze said. “I’ve seen the tapes and stuff. But, I think it’s very hard to evaluate just how good he can be practicing the way we do. So, it’s just hard for me to answer.”

Auburn’s spring A-Day game happens at 1 p.m. CT on Saturday, April 8.

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