Tigers Trying to Build Depth At Wide Receiver

The Auburn football team is making progress in the wide receivers group, according to Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

Auburn, Ala.--If Coach Rhett Lashlee is correct fans will see an improved group of wide receivers when the football Tigers take the field for Auburn's annual spring football game next week.

With all of the receivers back from last season's SEC championship team, plus two newcomers and a redshirt freshman added to the mix, the expectations are higher in 2014 for the receiver group.

"Everybody is taking accountability for what they're doing," the offensive coordinator said. "I've been proud of the way, overall, the receivers have stepped up and made some plays."

With the Tigers in their fourth of five weeks of spring drills, Lashlee notes that the offense is to the point that the coaches are experimenting with players at multiple positions and the receivers are no exception.

"I think you look at a guy like D'haquille Williams and we've put him at some different spots the last two days," Lashlee said of the receiver who joined the team in January after finishing his classes at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in December.

Returning junior Ricardo Louis is also getting look at multiple receiver positions along with Marcus Davis, who was one of the freshmen who played a major role in Auburn's success last season. Louis finished second in receiving yards for the Tigers in 2013 behind Sammie Coates while Davis was third.

Marcus Davis made a key catch on Auburn's drive to pull ahead at Texas A&M late in the game.

Based on his performance this spring, Williams is putting himself in position to join returnees Coates, Louis, Davis, Quan Bray, Melvin Ray, Tony Stevens and Jaylon Denson for playing time. All are competing this spring except for Denson, who is not expected back in practice until August as he continues to recovery from knee surgery after being injured in the 2013 LSU game.

"Duke has done a good job," Lashlee said of Williams, who was a juco All-American as a freshman. "Duke's done a really good job with buying into the way we're going to practice. A lot of times you get new guys, especially from junior college, they come in and they're not used to practicing like we practice. Let's just call it like it is. The way we practice is really hard on our wide receivers. The way we go, the tempo, we never stop. It gets them in great shape for the game, but he bought in from day one.

"All the little things we ask him to do, from the way we practice with tempo, run off the field, hand the ball to the official, all the little things, he has never once had one issue with attitude," the offensive coordinator added. "He's always bought into what Coach (Dameyune) Craig, what we're asking him, to do. I've been really pleased with the way him and Stanton Truitt, the two new guys at receiver.

"Stanton should really be a senior in high school going to prom in a few weeks," Lashlee said of the former high school quarterback, who graduated in December to get an early start on college football. "Those guys have done a really good job picking it up and you can tell they're going to be guys that are going to be ready to compete and contribute."

While Davis and Stevens played as true freshmen last season the coaches decided to redshirt Dominic Walker, who played high school football with Stevens in Orlando.

"You can tell the redshirt year really helped Dominic--very similar to (running back) Peyton Barber," Lashlee pointed out. "Now, we've got some really good players in front of him so I don't know what that means for him this year and you can tell that this spring it's been good because he's gotten a lot of reps. He has gotten more reps already this spring in 11 practices than he got all last summer and fall so we're learning more and more.

"What we see is things have slowed down for him and they should," the coach added. "If they didn't at this point, then you'd start to wonder.

"Tony Stevens has had a really good spring, for the most part," Lashlee said. "He has been like all of them. He has had his up and down days, but, man, you can tell he is starting to make plays. He has been one of those guys attacking the ball and making some great plays, trying to be more physical.

Tony Stevens caught five passes with one going for a touchdown as a freshman.

"Marcus is a lot like Cameron Artis-Payne," Lashlee said. "He is just steady, man. For a freshman, the kid is steady. He acts like he has been here for seven years. He comes to work every day, practices like a pro, he practices hard and he makes plays. That is what he did last year as a true freshman."

Lashlee noted that he likes have a quartet of tall receivers with big-play potential with Stevens, Coates, Louis and Williams to choose from. "That's four pretty big guys that all can go make plays on the ball, whether it's on deep balls, in the middle of the field or in the red zone," he said.

"We've worked really hard with all four of those guys down inside the red zone, and let's not forget about C.J. (tight end C.J. Uzomah) who made a lot of plays for us last year, another big guy. We feel like that can be a strength. We've got big-bodies who either have the ability to separate or even when they're covered--make plays. As a quarterback, man, that's what you like. That makes your job easier."

Ray, the former pro baseball player who scored a touchdown in the BCS Championship Game, is also competing for playing time this spring.

"Melvin's going to have a role," Lashlee said. "Melvin's role is that he's an older guy--literally and by class. He's just old. It's just an honest thing. Because of that he has got a maturity level and he understands the system.

"We moved him around a lot last year. He gives us some flexibility with all the things we do differently with the personnel. He can play a lot of different spots and he also makes you feel good, too, that if someone went down and it's even a position he's not playing, you could move him there and he's be able to plug in and play. Melvin will have a role and he will help us win.

Fans will be able to check out the receivers and the rest of team on Saturday, April 19th at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff for the spring game is 2 p.m. CDT.

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