"When we went to bed last night I would say there was very little change," Malzahn says of what transpired on signing day. "There is some anxiety. Anytime you are coming into this thing and you are four or five weeks in and you don't have the foundation of relationships then stuff can happen. Our coaching staff did a great job developing those relationships in a short period of time and it pretty much went as planned after we got up."
The biggest get on Wednesday was the addition of Adams. Rated the number three defensive tackle in the nation, Adams chose Auburn over Alabama, Clemson and Georgia to fill a big need for the Tigers. While there is depth for Rodney Garner to work with at the position, heading into spring practice with just two underclassmen at defensive tackle (Tyler Nero, Jabrian Niles) makes the addition of Adams huge in terms of future depth.
Joining Adams up front on the defensive line was a new addition to the class on signing day as four-star end Elijah Daniel flipped from Ole Miss to the Tigers after visiting last weekend and falling in love with the Auburn program and coaching staff. A physical defender that has the ability to play the strong side at 6-3 and over 250 pounds, Daniel teams up with Carl Lawson to form a formidable duo at the position for the Tigers. Daniel's addition offset the loss of defensive end Tashawn Bower, who fooled everyone by signing with LSU on Wednesday.
Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson at the Under Armour All-American Game.
"You know in this league you win on the offensive and defensive lines," Malzahn says. "The defensive line was a focus. The three guys we got, we feel like they are three of the best in the entire country. Coach (Rodney) Garner is a great coach and he'll have three guys that will have a chance to help us immediately."
Getting Peyton Barber at the running back position over the weekend, Auburn added another big piece of the puzzle on signing day when four-star speedster Johnathan Ford from New Hope chose the Tigers over Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia, Vanderbilt and several others. Needing help at the position in the worst way with very little depth on campus, Malzahn says the two high school players along with junior college signee Cameron Artis-Payne should help to alleviate the concerns at the position next fall.
"We were definitely wanting two running backs," Malzahn says. "We felt pretty good about Johnathan for a while, but it got interesting there in the middle of it but he loves Auburn. We really think he's going to be a phenomenal running back. Peyton Barber was a fight to the finish, but once he came on his official visit he loves Auburn too. Those two guys are going to have the chance to get on the field and provide depth next year."
At quarterback Auburn signed junior college standout Nick Marshall as well as in-state quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith. Malzahn says that while Marshall and Smith are athletic enough to play another position, they will get every opportunity to earn the job at quarterback this fall.
"We're going to give all three of those guys a shot at quarterback," Malzahn says. "They are all very talented at that position. As you have seen in the past, the dual-threat guys that keep plays alive can be be very successful with what we do."
Rounding out the new additions on signing day was three-star safety Mackenro Alexander from Immokalee, Fla. A physical safety, Alexander totaled 154 tackles and four and a half sacks this season while returning four of his five interceptions for touchdowns. His 350+ career tackles set a school record. Auburn almost got the double as his brother Mackensie Alexander considered the Tigers before choosing to play at Clemson. Alexander joins fellow signees Brandon King and Khari Harding at another need position for the Tigers with Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 defense featuring three safeties on the field.
It's hard to give the Tigers a perfect grade for the class when they lost out on several key prospects late in the recruiting season, but to come in and nab a group of this caliber in just over two months was very impressive. Getting Adams on signing day to finish off a stellar defensive line class was big, but adding needed depth and talent at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver may wind up being the most important part of this class for Malzahn moving the Auburn program forward.
"It has been a great day," Malzahn says. "I'm very excited about this class. I really feel like we filled our needs. We tried to address our immediate needs and I really feel like we accomplished that.
"I would really like to compliment our coaching staff," he adds. "They did a wonderful job on a short period of time. With a new staff coming in we had a lot of obstacles as far as trying to develop relationships. Anytime you come in and don't retain any of the previous staff and you have a lot of commitments, there are a lot of things that go with that. I'm really excited and pleased with our staff."
The class may not be done just yet however as four-star running back Cornelius Elder from Ensworth High in Nashville and four-star juco defensive lineman Toby Johnson remain unsigned. Both are expected to make decisions in the coming weeks and Malzahn says they'll wait to see if things change before putting this class on the books.
"It just depends on who they would be, but there could be a couple more here in the near future."