It seems like everyone erroneously uses "-gate" at the end of anything describing any sort of scandal or big story, nowadays. Auburn has a "-gate" in the past with the 2003 "Jetgate." Why is this an erroneous use? Well, because it all originated with the Watergate situation with President Nixon. It wasn't a scandal over a water issue, but rather revolved around the name of an actual location. The Watergate Hotel in Washington DC.
WarRoomEagle was the first to point out on Twitter this morning that we should be thankful no one has used "Dukegate" yet for the Duke Williams situation, and, of course, someone else suggested "Dukeghazi" as an alternative. I couldn't come up with a suitable joke on my own (a not uncommon occurrence), so I'm stealing it. Thanks @jdh1605!
What We Know
Duke is not participating in any team activities (including Sunday's Fan Day). Gus Malzahn said he's facing a disciplinary issue and there is a path he has to follow to earn his way back on to the field. When asked about the situation following Monday's scrimmage, Gus was quick to say that he'll let the beat writers know when there's a change in his status. So we're not going to get any updates. One day we'll be told he's back, been dismissed, or we'll go through the whole season just wondering.
If you don't know what RUMINT means, it's a joke in the intelligence field. There's Human Intelligence (HUMINT), Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), and a number of other specialties within the intelligence collection field. So what is RUMINT? It is the form of intelligence that seems to be relied upon the most by so many of the common Soldiers in the US Army. It is Rumors Intelligence. "Bob on the Fob" sums it up real well, here.
So what is the RUMINT? It's a certainty that Duke was involved in an incident with a basketball player at some point soon before preseason practice started. There was no official discussion on it. There hasn't been public confirmation of it in any way, shape, form, or fashion from either head coach. So I'm not going to go into more detail than that in the article, even though I've mentioned it in the comments of some previous articles. That this occurred was rampant on message boards and has been confirmed by some website moderators who actually have sources within the department (that is a pay-walled link, by the way).
Following that? I don't know for certain. Gus was specific that it is a discipline issue. There was some message board talk that maybe it was a compliance issue, but Gus specified discipline and he worded things differently last season when discussing the situation that kept Robenson Therezie out of practice until just before the Arkansas game.
Duke practiced the first few days, so it's clear that the basketball altercation* wasn't enough to warrant the suspension on its own. There are other rumors out there, some of them very believable (also pay-walled, unfortunately) about what may have led to the suspension. I'm not big on discussing rumors in the articles unless I have more concrete information (at which point, of course, they aren't really rumors), but the rumors - while still concerning given his history - aren't that bad at all. I could easily see anyone doing something similar. I'm not trying to justify it, I'm just saying that even the most level-headed of people can lose their cool in the heat of the moment.
So why this long section? I wanted to clarify that it appears that there was more than just the incident with the basketball player and to clarify it as a discipline issue (as Gus has said) rather than a compliance issue (as some rumors stated very early on).
*I didn't really pay attention to my wording here, earlier. Edited to say "altercation" rather than "fight." There's never been a real report that it was a physical fight and others have confirmed it was more just an argument than a physical fight.
There are folks who think that without Duke Williams, Auburn cannot win the SEC. I disagree with that. Duke is a game changing wide receiver. He is a threat that would force defenses to account for him on every play. He will hopefully make the 2015 Tigers exponentially better with him than they would be without him.
He is not, however, the focus of the offense. Will Auburn throw the ball more this season? Of course they will with Jeremy Johnson at the helm. The focus will still be on the power running game, though.
There are a lot of talented wide receivers on this team (something I can't remember saying much in my lifetime). I don't think any of them are as physically gifted as Duke, but they all bring something special to the field. I'm certain that if Duke doesn't play a single down for Auburn this season that one or more of those other receivers will step up and Auburn will be just fine throwing the football enough to keep the running game open.
"Oh, and just who is that," you ask? There are the obvious knowns: Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray, and Marcus Davis. Then there are folks like Tony Stevens, Myron Burton, and newcomers Jason Smith, Darius Slayton, and Ryan Davis. There are plenty of options for the Tigers. The 2013 team was just fine leaning heavy on the run and a great receiver in Sammie Coates. The 2015 team will be fine if they need to rely on the running game and a bunch of talented but not necessarily all-conference receivers.
Will We Need Those Options, Though?
I stress that this is only my opinion (and my wishful thinking), but I don't think we're going to need someone else to step up. If someone else turns out to be a very serious addition to the receiver rotation I'm definitely not going to complain, though! I think there was a minor incident that Gus Malzahn is using as a teaching point to ensure Duke Williams knows he's on thin ice and that he is not bigger than this team.
It is, however, all on Duke to do what needs to be done for him to see the field again. He has to realize that NFL teams take note of things like this. NFL.com's article on it reiterates the point I'm making that this is likely more an attitude adjustment situation, but it can still cause his draft stock to fall if NFL GMs think he'll be a locker room issue.
Then again, these are the same GMs that thought Marcus Mariota not having any "red flags" was a "red flag" itself.
I hope this whole situation is a wake-up call to him and that the Duke Williams who was reportedly a workout warrior and team leader over the summer reappears in full form. When this might happen, I don't know. Personally, I think we'll see Duke on the field for the Louisville game. For all we know it could happen any day. Auburn hits the field this afternoon to continue spring practice. If I had to take a wild guess, though, I'd say he returns to the field once practices begin after the first day of class.