Auburn, Ala.--With the announcement on Monday that junior wide receiver Sammie Coates was going to enter the NFL Draft, Auburn’s talent pool on offense for 2015 continued to get considerably shallower with quarterback Nick Marshall, running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, wide receiver Quan Bray and tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse all playing their final game for the Tigers in the Outback Bowl.
When you throw in the possibility that junior Duke Williams could also enter the draft, it leaves a huge hole on that side of the ball for Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. The good news is that quarterback Jeremy Johnson has some experience and should be the favorite to win the job over Sean White heading into spring practice.
With Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber coming back at the running back position and junior college transfer Jovon Robinson already on campus and practicing, that spot appears to be in good hands. At wide receiver however things are much more up in the air. While veterans such as Ricardo Louis, Jaylon Denson, Melvin Ray and Marcus Davis are expected to be the main weapons, the Tigers will depend on some new faces and others who have very little experience to pick up the slack next season.
Bowl practices are always a time for the coaches to get an early look at the next season and that is what Auburn is doing this week with the on-campus workouts. With the veterans getting just enough work to stay sharp, it has been the younger players getting the bulk of the attention and Lashlee said so far he’s been impressed by what he’s seen from a large group of guys on offense including redshirt freshman receiver Myron Burton.
“I was really impressed by some things he did,” Lashlee said of the speedy receiver. “Obviously Jovon is here. We’re still developing Peyton and Roc and they are doing some really good things. Tony Stevens has stepped up and made some plays the last two days. I know he plays now, but still I have noticed a little bit of urgency out of him. Of course Sean White gets more reps these couple of days, which is good. He’s done really well. Up front we’ll continue to develop our second line of guys.”
Developing players is something very difficult to do during the season because of the 20-hour rule giving the coaches just enough time to get the plan in each week. That means guys like Burton have to do a lot of work on their own to stay up to speed and be ready when their time comes. Lashlee said it’s obvious the son of a former Tiger has done his homework.
“So far he's just shown me he's tough,” Lashlee said of Burton. “He's a competitor. We take a guy who has been on scout team all year. He's coming back over and we're calling plays and some of them he ran in fall camp and some of them he's never heard of, so we're kind of helping out with what to do. Whether he does it right or not, now he's made some plays, but he plays hard, he plays physical, he doesn't get tired. I just like his attitude. It's been impressive for two days.”
Another player that has stepped up his game is Stevens. Playing sparingly his first two seasons at Auburn, Stevens has caught just six passes for 90 yards for the Tigers, but has shown some promise. A receiver that has the ability to stretch the field, Stevens is someone Lashlee and Dameyune Craig are looking to make a move this bowl season and during spring practice.
“Tony is a long,” Lashlee said. “I think he's gotten stronger this year, that's the big thing. If he could just put on some weight in the upper body and be a little bit more physical upper body, he's got all the ability in the world. So, obviously with Sammie moving on we're losing size and speed. We're going to need somebody like him to step up.”