Young Tigers To Watch: Freshmen On Offense

A trio of 2014 true freshmen who could help the Tigers are featured in this Auburn football report.

Auburn, Ala.--With so many returning players on offense for Coach Gus Malzahn and Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee, the challenge of breaking into the playing rotation for guys on that side of the ball has been a daunting one.

While many have been impressive in preseason practices, two have risen to the top and should have a great chance to get on the field this fall for the Tigers in some capacity while several others are in the mix.

Even with returning seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant back at the running back position along with redshirt freshman Peyton Barber, there is a good chance true freshman Roc Thomas will see some action in the opener after a strong preseason camp

One of the top running back prospects in the country coming out of Oxford High School, the 5-10, 193-pounder has lived up to early advance billing as has fellow freshman Kamryn Pettway. Lashlee said both guys bring something to the table for the Tigers, but Thomas is someone who can do everything they ask in the offense

"He's an all around back,” Lashlee said of Thomas, who was named Alabama's Mr. Football last season. “He's like any freshman, he's not going to be as physically fit now as he will be in year or two years. So is he physically ready to carry it like Tre did 30 times in a game? Well, no, but when Tre (Mason) was a freshman he wasn't an every down guy and he was outside the tackle more, and you saw how he bulked up.

“Corey Grant's another good example, he's rocked up now and he can run anywhere, so we'll see how Roc and Peyton Barber and those two guys factor in. They both had a really good camp. We have four guys right there, and then you have Pettway. You can't have enough running backs in this league. We'll see what Roc's role is. He will be an every down back, he's not that small, he's still 5-11 close to 200 pounds so he's a thick kid."

Tim Horton, Auburn's running backs coach, said Thomas is off to a good start in his first preseason on a college campus and pointed out that the newcomer should be fun for Tiger fans to watch.

While Thomas still may need to add some bulk to be an every-down back in the SEC, fellow freshman offensive lineman Braden Smith has plenty going for him in that department. Already 6-6, 299, Smith is the strongest player on the team, but his talent doesn’t end there. Flexible and capable of playing tackle or guard, Smith is currently working as the second-team left tackle behind Shon Coleman and Lashlee said he expects to see No. 71 on the field early at least on special teams.

“I think Braden Smith will help us,” Lashlee said. “He's not starting right now, but he's gonna be in our two-deep, there's no secret there and I think he's probably on some (special) teams. I'm not sure about that. Braden is someone who is physically ready and can potentially help us this year.”

Braden Smith is a massive freshman offensive lineman

The best gauge of Smith’s impact could be what his veteran teammates think of him. One of Auburn’s most experienced players and someone who is used to seeing offensive lineman up close and personal, senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said Smith is the stuff of legend and he can’t wait to see him in action. “That kid is a complete monster,” Uzomah said.

J.B. Grimes, who coaches the offensive line, noted that he likes what he is seeing from the five-star recruit. "I can tell you this, he is tremendously gifted from a physical standpoint and he is very smart,” Grimes said.

Stanton Truitt enrolled at Auburn in January after graduating early from high school.

A player who could also see early playing time on offense is speedy wide receiver Stanton Truitt. Getting a head start on learning the offense during spring practice, the true freshman is a dynamic playmaker who could see his first action on special teams. With the depth at wide receiver for the Tigers it may be tough for Truitt to break in the lineup, but with his speed and ability just one shot might be all he needs to make an impact.

"We’re pretty deep at receiver right now so where he ends up this year I don’t know, but we’re really excited about his future," Lashlee said of Truitt, who played quarterback last season at Monroe Area High School in Georgia.

Dameyune Craig, who coaches the wide receivers, said he likes Truitt's potential and how he has practiced in preseason. "Stanton is a speedster," Craig said. "He sticks his foot in the ground and gets north and south."

Craig added, "Stanton is a hard worker, and he is hard on himself, too. He wants to be great."

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