There is little doubt that wide receiver Emory Blake heads into his senior season as a marked man based on his production the last two seasons and the lack of consistent production from anyone else at the position in 2011.
Playing in 11 games last season and battling injuries much of the time, Blake (6-2, 197) still managed to lead Auburn in catches and yards with 36 receptions for 613 yards. He added five touchdown grabs. Those numbers might not look out of the ordinary until you look at what the rest of the receivers did as a group.
Emory Blake catches a touchdown vs. Ole Miss
The combination of Trovon Reed (21-164), Quan Bray (17-93), Travante Stallworth (13-214), Quindarius Carr (8-173), DeAngelo Benton (7-136) and Jay Wisner (2-28) combined for a total of just 68 receptions for the season, an average of just better than five catches a game. With a combined yardage total of just 808 yards it means wide receivers other than Blake accounted for just 62 receiving yards a game.
With Gus Malzahn now the head coach at Arkansas State and gone with him the hurry up/no huddle offense, the Tigers will be much more conventional on offense in 2012 under the direction of Scot Loeffler. As a player and later a coach at Michigan, Loeffler has schooled in power football and the play-action passing gam. He added some spread tendencies to his game with his work at Florida and Temple. This season he is expected to bring all of that to the table in his first season with the Tigers and Blake said it should be fun to watch.
"It's completely different," Blake said of the offense. "It's more of a pro-style offense, more under-center than what we did last year. It's a totally different field on the offense. I like it. I love it. It's going to give me more opportunities to make some plays and more plays in the passing game in general."
How much Blake and the passing game can get untracked in 2012 will directly relate to how well the quarterback plays for the Tigers. Last season Auburn's trio of Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier threw for 2,018 yards and 16 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Now gone, Trotter threw of the majority of the yards with 1,184 and was credited with 11 of the passing touchdowns.
The job will now fall to either Moseley or Frazier. Frazier is coming off a rough first season throwing the ball for the Tigers. Used mainly as a runner, he seemed to lose confidence in his passing ability and completed just 5-12 balls for 34 yards with two interceptions. With Frazier having a strong overall spring and Moseley coming on stronger at the end of spring after being sidelined by a sore throwing arm, Blake said he's ready to see what they can do this fall.
Blake said both QBs have "progressed a lot" coming into the preseason. "I think Coach Loeffler knows what he's talking about when it comes to being a great quarterback coach," the receiver said. "I'm excited to see what they do during the fall."
The question Blake and the quarterbacks want to know is who will step up and take on a bigger role opposite Blake this season?
The good news is Auburn has plenty of available candidates with seniors Stallworth (5-9, 188) and Benton (6-2, 208) the most experienced of the group with fellow senior Anthony Morgan (5-11, 201) and plenty of young players also copeting for a spot in the rotation.
Getting plenty of work last season at the slot receiver position, sophomores Trovon Reed and Quan Bray both showed flashes of what they can do in 2011, but Auburn is hoping for more consistency from both this season as their roles will likely expand from mainly catching wide receiver screens to trying to stretch the field vertically.
Trovon Reed will be a redshirt sophomore this fall.
Playing in 10 games, Reed (6-0, 186) finished fourth on the team with 21 receptions, but only managed 164 receiving yards for the year. Bray (5-10, 184) was much the same, totaling 93 yards on 17 catches.
Two players who came in last fall will have a chance to make a big impact this season under Loeffler because of their physical presence and ability to go across the middle. Playing last year as a true freshman Jaylon Denson (6-3, 208) failed to catch a pass and was used mainly on special teams. The Hoover native had a strong spring and goes into the preseason as a player that could see his playing time increase.
Perhaps the wide receiver who will have the biggest opportunity this August is redshirt freshman Sammie Coates. On his way to playing last season before going down in camp with an injury that kept him out of action until bowl practice, Coates (6-2, 200) is now bigger and stronger. Add that to being fast and explosive leaper and you have the makings of a difference-maker for Auburn's offense. If the Leroy native can be consistent catching the football in traffic he has a chance to do big things this season.
Sammie Coates should be a deep threat for the Tigers.
With signee Jaquay Williams (6-4, 200) still waiting to be cleared by the NCAA and with the possibility that could drag on until close to the start of classes in mid-August, the likelihood that an incoming freshman makes an immediate impact falls to the capable hands of Ricardo Louis. The Miami Beach native and former high school quarterback has worked hard to improve his skills as a receiver over the last year and it has started to pay off.
Having a strong summer working out with his teammates, the 6-2, 210 Louis has a great opportunity to catch the coaches' eyes this preseason and earn some valuable playing time this fall.