Gus Malzahn released the 2018 football depth chart today ahead of Auburn’s game with Washington this Saturday, and then subsequently met with the media to talk about it!
Gus starts talking about the Washington defense and how they’ll be experienced with a great secondary (statistically one of the best in the land). Eight starters are back on offense with Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin and a big ole offensive line.
Then he gives a couple updates on some injuries — Richard McBryde will miss the year with a neck injury and Joey Gatewood will miss Saturday’s game with a bit of a thumb injury. That means that Cord Sandberg is the third guy at quarterback.
It’s time for questions.
The Internet rumor mill gets its question in second overall, asking about Jamel Dean and his status — he had a little bit of a finger issue but he’ll be fine.
At punter, Aidan Marshall won the job, as he grew into one of the most improved players on the team. Gus hints that we may not see the end of Arryn Siposs (double punter formation???), so we’ll have to see.
With Eli Stove and Will Hastings out for the time being, that means Sal Cannella gets a little more work and a starting role. He’s versatile and he can do some more things than maybe Eli and Will could. After that, Gus gets the question about slow starts on offense.
Obviously, we’ve had some big early opponents, and that’s been a factor in the sluggish starts, and when it’s coupled with new guys in important positions, you don’t really know how they’re going to react. HOWEVER, twice Gus mentions that we have our quarterback returning, and how important that can be for everything else.
Now it’s on to Boobee time, as we talk JaTarvious Whitlow. He plays with an edge and he has the respect of his teammates after a solid spring and fall camp. As for the offensive coaching staff, Gus once again emphasizes the continuity where the coaches have the same benefits as many of the offensive players in spending a lot of time together. It’s a similar story with both coordinators back in the fold to give everything a smoother flow and put a little more peace of mind in the thoughts of the head coach.
Maybe the biggest worry for everyone — the secondary — has a solid front line and then some talented backups (freshmen, yes), but Gus is confident in that. It’s similar for the running backs where we have differently-abled backs to carry the ball. Martin, Whitlow, Martin, and Shivers all have different skillsets and they’ll all get opportunities in the opener. Gus says that he likes our chances to have a tenth 1,000-yard rusher in a row.
As for Washington, there’s a little bit more motivation simply because of the ranking and the national perspective on the Huskies, but players are excited to hit someone other than a teammate anytime you start the regular season.
Someone has to bring up the bit of bad luck we’ve had in the Benz, finishing the 2017 season with two straight losses. Gus believes wholeheartedly that in a new year, against a good team, right down the road, there’s no need to get caught up in all that sort of talk. As for feeling complete after fall camp, there are areas (penalties, turnovers, kicking game) that need to be totally cleaned up before kickoff, but that there are unknowns with new guys coming into the fold. All of those factors are especially ramped up in an opener as guys get used to playing real football and not just practice football.
As for the pass blocking from the tailback position, Tim Horton won’t put someone out there that can’t pass protect, and as for the special teams, kick and punt coverage have been big factors (as well they should be after some breakdowns last year).
Gus now says that there’s been improved consistency and communication from the offensive line, and that there’s no way that they’ll be overwhelmed after practicing against the Auburn defensive line. At center, Kaleb Kim is definitely the starter, but Nick Brahms is hot on his heels after getting fully healthy over the past couple of weeks. Brahms is likely the guy if something were to happen to Kim on Saturday. Additionally, Calvin Ashley is getting more comfortable at guard as the days go by, but J.B. Grimes is leaning on Mike Horton and Marquel Harrell at the guard spots for leadership of the line as a whole.
For Jarrett Stidham, going against a secondary that’s so highly touted, and after last year’s high sack total, that had to be an emphasis in the offseason. It’s certainly not hurt after playing against our defensive line, but Washington does have a talented front seven on defense.
Speaking of our front guys on defense, Nick Coe won the Buck job today, and Gus says that the main factor in that decision was consistency.
On special teams, Anders Carlson seems to be similar to his older brother, and Gus definitely says that there’s confidence that he can hit the long kicks like Daniel did.
Next there’s a question about this year’s defense being the most talented he’s had in terms of raw skill, and Gus coach speaks in saying that it’s “one of them”. Again, there’s consistency in important positions and in the coaching staff. Coaches know the players, and that’s huge.
Marlon Davidson is heading into his third season as a starter, and he’s fully healthy heading into this season. Basically he’s ready to wreck shop. On the topic of injuries, someone asks about Dean’s hand again, and Gus says they’ll look at extra equipment closer to Saturday.
He closes by saying Chris Petersen’s one of the good guys in the business and that he’s first class as a person. We hope he’s a gracious loser on Saturday.