Auburn, Ala.--This week is the beginning of a new adventure for nine early enrollees for Auburn and for Gus Malzahn’s football program the timing couldn’t be better with several expected to challenge for immediate playing time in 2016 as the Tigers look to improve on last year’s 7-6 finish.
Improving talent is always the ultimate goal in recruiting, but getting guys in early enough to go through spring practice is a big boost for a program that has holes to fill in several key spots.
Perhaps the most important player among the early guys is quarterback John Franklin. A transfer from East Mississippi Community College by way of Florida State, the 6-2, 185 Franklin has the speed to be a real threat running the football, but also the arm strength to make plays down the field in the passing game.
With Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and Tyler Queen all back in the spring, Franklin will have a battle to win the starting job for the Tigers, but there is no question he’ll have every opportunity to do just that in the 15 days Auburn will be on the field in the spring.
While the quarterback position will get the most attention the addition of several talented defensive linemen could have just as much impact for the Tigers. Coming in from a junior college, pass rush specialist Paul James has the physical tools to play early and even with Carl Lawson returning he’s a player who could fit opposite Lawson to give Auburn a threat off both sides of the defense.
Another defensive end who has a chance to play early is big Marlon Davidson. With the quickness to rush the passer and the size (6-4, 255) to set the edge against the run, Davidson is the prototypical strongside end and a winter in the weight room plus spring practice should get him prepared to play next fall.
Rounding out the list of defensive linemen is four-star tackle Antwuan Jackson. While the need at defensive end is a big one, getting immediate help in the middle for the Tigers is perhaps even more important for Auburn’s defense. Even if Montravius Adams returns he’ll be joined by fellow seniors Devaroe Lawrence and Maurice Swain in the middle along with Dontavius Russell and redshirt freshman Jauntavius Johnson. Getting experience is an absolute must for Jackson because in 2017 he’s a player who will be counted on to play a huge role.
Rounding out the help on defense is linebacker Tre Threat and cornerback John Broussard. Playing his way into a starting role in the recent Under Armour All-American Game, Threat is a physical player who should benefit greatly from his early enrollment. The same is true of Broussard, who could use early time in the weight room to get bigger and stronger.
On the offensive side of the ball, tight end Landon Rice joins Franklin as a player who could earn a starting role very early in his Auburn career. At 6-5, 255 pounds Rice is the type of tight end that Malzahn loves in his offense because of his blocking ability and soft hands. With just two tight ends on campus and neither playing a significant role last season, Rice will be hard to keep off the field.
A player who could find himself in a similar situation next fall is big-time wide receiver Kyle Davis. Undergoing shoulder surgery following his senior season at Archer High in Lawrenceville, Ga., Davis won’t be able to participate in spring practice, but will get a head start on learning the offense. That should allow him a solid chance to get into the mix early in his career because of a lack of depth at the position heading into the 2016 season.
Rounding out the early enrollees is running back Malik Miller from Madison Academy. A knee injury brought his senior season to an early end and kept him from possibly winning a fourth state championship, but Miller is back running and should be ready to go in the spring. A physical back who is also a talented linebacker, Miller is the definition of a football player and getting an early start on his career is good news for the Tigers.