A week from today, Auburn Football will hit the practice fields for the first time of the 2016 season. The early enrollees from Spring will be joined by their fellow incoming Freshmen, the redshirt freshmen, and sophomores who've been around the block a bit, all with the hopes of making an immediate impact.
So, because it's still the offseason and speculation like this is going to be what sustains us through September 3rd, I decided to take a look at just who among the underclassmen may be in a good position to make an impact during the 2016 football season.
If there's one thing building this roster spreadsheet showed me, it's just how thin out experienced depth on the offensive line is. There are a few seniors, four juniors, one sophomore, and then a ton of freshmen and redshirt freshmen. The fact Auburn only signed two offensive linemen in the 2016 recruiting cycle (one of which won't be available due to cancer) didn't do much to assuage the fears of Tiger fans.
There is one thing to take solace in, though. The 2015 class was filled with offensive linemen. Many of them were early enrollees, too, so they already have two springs and a full season behind them. If all goes well, then many of these will get experience in garbage time of a few games to set themselves up when Auburn has to replace virtually the entire offensive line for 2017.
Of the players on the roster, I would probably say Kaleb Kim (Center) and Mike Horton (OG) are the most likely to get any real experience this season during actual game time if needed. Horton, who redshirted last season, was listed on the 2-deep at the Guard spot for pretty much the whole year. Auburn went through three centers (one was lost before he even had a chance to play there) last season. Hopefully, that type of thing doesn't come up this year, but I would like to see Kim get some experience.
The Tigers are thin at tight end. Very thin. Jalen Harris played in limited action last year. Chris Laye is gone, so that leaves Harris and incoming freshman Landon Rice as the primary players at that spot.
So, how much do I think the underclassmen will play? A lot. Because they're all we have. Rice is the prototypical big-body blocking/receiving TE that Auburn has loved to use under Gus Malzahn. At 6'5, 253 lbs, his size will make him perfect for those pump fake routes to the corner of the end zone that C.J. Uzomah was so great at. Harris is only an inch smaller and is a few pounds heavier than Rice and has a year's worth of experience behind him.
We better hope the underclassmen TEs have a big impact.
This is a lot like TE. The only fullbacks we have on the roster are underclassmen, so the Tigers are going to have to rely heavily on them. Chandler Cox and Kamryn Pettway saw extensive time last season for the same reason. With a year under their belts, hopefully, their play will be even better.
Of course, that's if one or both of them don't spend a lot of time at another position...
During A-Day, we saw a bit of the Kamryn and Chandler Tote The Rock Show. I don't know about y'all, but I liked what I saw. A lot. Auburn's running back depth isn't exactly at the "Stable" level it was last year. We've got some horses, but there's room in the Barn (pun wasn't intended, but I left it in because LOL BARN).
Auburn has one upperclassman running back. One. That's... shocking. Peyton Barber going pro and Roc Thomas transferring is the reason for that. Behind Jovon is sophomore Kerryon Johnson, Pettway/Cox, freshman Malik Miller, and - just in case you forgot - speedster Kam Martin.
Gus' offense has been most effective with a mobile quarterback you say? Well, I say it's been most effective when you have an excellent back on the speed sweep. Martin can be that back.
Tony Stevens, Marcus Davis, and Jason Smith are the only scholarship wide receivers who are upperclassmen. Are you starting to see a trend here? Auburn is extremely young everywhere but the offensive line. Stanton Truitt has been around for a few years, but he's considered a sophomore because of a redshirt season.
So, yes, we need the underclassmen to contribute. Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton are the only two who were around last year, and Slayton redshirted while Davis saw very limited action. If you want to know why Auburn was able to sign such a great class of wide receivers, I think this is your clear answer: there is plenty of playing time to be had.
We'll see at least one, if not two or three, of the underclassmen starting at wide receiver this season. Of the true freshmen, I'd most likely say it will be Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Myers. I don't count the others out, though. This is going to be the unit that sees the most clearly visible impact on the team's overall success from the underclassmen in my mind.
There's only one spot on the field for the quarterback, and it's really hard to say with this one. I debated even discussing the quarterback because the answer will pretty much be given to us the moment the starter is named. Jeremy Johnson or John Franklin III are upperclassmen. Sean White, Tyler Queen (who is recovering from yet another injury) and Woody Barrett are all underclassmen.
If the season were to start this weekend, then I'd say Sean White is the starter. I don't know what's happened over the summer and what may happen in the first week or so of Fall Camp, though, so it's a toss up for this one.
Auburn is going to need underclassmen who are ready to compete on Day 1. Auburn will need true freshmen who are ready to compete on Day 1. That's just how thin this team is at some very key positions. There's talent, but there's not much in the way of depth in many spots.
I really don't think I understood just how young the offense is - aside from the offensive line - until I started looking at this. Thankfully, it all begins up front. Hopefully, those offensive linemen will gel and be able to open up the running lanes Auburn needs to be successful with the running game.
Elsewhere? Aside from QB, there's not a position on the offense that may not end up dominated by underclassmen in 2016. That's good news for the next few seasons of Auburn football. It might make for some growing pains on offense, though.
Unfortunately, there's no room in the early part of the schedule for those growing pains. They're going to have to learn quickly.
War Eagle. Always.