Since Gus Malzahn has had a hand in Auburn’s offense, the Tigers’ rushing attack has become one of the most effective and most feared in the conference. It’s been an offense, particularly in 2010 and 2013, that will all but abandon the passing game in favor of demoralizing a defense in the trenches. We’ve seen the Cam Newton and Nick Marshall-led offenses pile up absurd rushing totals on the way to SEC Championships, and we got a bit of a glimpse of that last season as well when the entire offense was healthy.
Something’s still missing.
Auburn’s passing game hasn’t had the same type of clout under Gus Malzahn, but changes seem to be in the works with the addition of Chip Lindsey to the offensive staff. Lindsey will bring in a scheme that does air out the ball more than most Auburn fans will be used to seeing, maybe even going back to the days of Terry Bowden and Dameyune Craig when the rushing game was nonexistent.
We know what Jarrett Stidham and Sean White can do in leading an offense, and the offensive line has good experience in blocking for guys like Kam Pettway and Kerryon Johnson. The one area that’s underachieved at Auburn has been the wide receiver corps, but there’s a huge talent pool on the boundaries, centered around a sophomore class that showed flashes last season.
THE MAIN GUYS
Last season, we got to see glimpses of four receivers in particular making plays in noticeable ways. First up, Kyle Davis.
AL.com got the perfect angle on the main highlight from Kyle Davis’ freshman season. It came in Game 2 against Arkansas State, but it showed off just how athletic he can be. He’s the kind of player who can win the one-on-one battles with just about any defensive back and (should his personal issues be in the rearview mirror) looks like the big deep threat that can take over a ballgame.
Another tall, strong guy with great hands was a receiver who committed early to Auburn and reaffirmed on signing day. Nate Craig-Myers didn’t have nearly the freshman campaign he would’ve liked, catching just 4 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown, but he’s shown off the hand strength that will convince quarterbacks to get him the ball. He seemed to have the eye of Jarrett Stidham during the A-Day game, as he snagged 5 catches for 154 yards.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Eli Stove, who’s probably the fastest of the three mentioned so far. Look no further than Auburn’s opening play of the Arkansas game last season, when he took a simple end-around 78 yards untouched for a score. Stove became one of the more prominent targets for Auburn quarterbacks last year, catching 23 passes for 224 yards, and in Chip Lindsey’s system, he ought to be able to increase those numbers and hopefully break a couple long ones both in the screen game and in added contribution to the rushing attack.
Then, last but not least, you’ve got Darius Slayton. Slayton might be the smoothest actual receiver of the bunch, with the best pedigree in route-running and mechanics. Along with Davis, Craig-Myers, and Stove, he was in the first couple of reps for the offense in the opening couple of fall practice sessions.
Who’s behind the foursome mentioned above? Well, there are a couple familiar options. Two have already spent time at wideout, while the other hasn’t.
First up, there’s Ryan Davis. He caught a bunch of throws (2nd most on the team), but just never really did much with them, as he averaged just under 8 yards per catch. Here’s hoping that Lindsey’s offense affords him a little more space with which to operate.
Last fall, Will Hastings became a favored target of Sean White in practices leading up to the season, and he ended up getting a ton of work early on in the season, catching 8 passes and a touchdown in the first three games before his reps decreased. He has the quickness to play in the SEC, but he may just be a little too far down the depth chart. Still, he likely has some role left to play before he’s done at Auburn.
An interesting addition to the wide receiver group this year is John Franklin III, who moved from quarterback after last season. He may be the flat-out fastest guy on the team, so anytime Auburn can get him the ball in space, good things will likely happen. Check out his touchdown run at the 1:22 mark of this video.
Elsewhere, we may see true freshman Noah Igbinoghene thrown into the mix at some point, but through the first couple of practices it does look like a guy who’s made some waves is Sal Cannella. Cannella signed with Auburn out of junior college this past February and has an interesting mix of size and skills. Word is he’s already a bit of a chameleon who can play in several different spots. He’ll compete with Jalen Harris for playing time at tight end. Harris is more of a classic tight end body, and his only two catches last year went for touchdowns.
Overall, there’s a heck of a lot of potential this year, and coupled with Chip Lindsey’s offense and Jarrett Stidham’s arm, we could see something special.