Jalen Harris (above) will be a sophomore this season for the Tigers.
Editor's Note: These lists feature our thoughts on the most important players for Auburn heading into the 2016 football season. We are counting down 16 key Tigers for the offense and 16 more for the defense as Coach Gus Malzahn's team prepares to face Clemson in the season opener.
Auburn, Ala.--After the Auburn Tigers didn’t have a single reception from a tight end a year ago, the combination of sophomore Jalen Harris and true freshman Landon Rice should give Coach Gus Malzahn’s offense a much better opportunity to make plays at that position during the 2016 season.
Forced to rely mainly on a pair of offensive tackles at tight end last year, Auburn gets to incorporate more of a receiving threat at the position with Harris and Rice both good athletes with big bodies. While short on experience, both bring something to the table that has been missing from the offense for the better part of three seasons.
Impressing the coaches prior to his senior season with a strong summer camp, Harris has continued to get bigger and stronger and that should pay off this season as he will be called on to provide blocking on the edge first and foremost. Catching the eye of Auburn's coaches even earlier, during his sophomore season, Rice has the size and skills to be an impact player at a position that Malzahn likes to utilize in the red zone.
Best Case Scenario: Both Harris and Rice show they are ready for prime time, giving Auburn a pair of additional weapons to use in short yardage and red zone situations. Those are areas that the Tigers really struggled in a season ago so shoring that up would be a big step for the offense this fall.
Worst Case Scenario: The lack of experience is concerning because with Kameron Pettway expected to see some time at running back that leaves Chandler Cox taking on more of the role as a true fullback. Auburn has to have either Harris or Rice be able to handle the tight end spot to give the Tigers a full complement of weapons to choose from.
Landon Rice enrolled at Auburn in January and participated in spring drills.
Career Comparison: This is a tough one because you almost have to consider these guys together, at least until someone steps up and takes over the position. Because of that I think back to the combination of Ed West and Jeff Parks in the early 1980’s. West went on to a long and successful NFL career, but at Auburn the duo shared the wealth and were able to be key targets for an Auburn offense that was run-first, much like the Tigers should be again in 2016.
Harris/Rice At Their Best: Because we have yet to see them really in action at the college level, you have to lean on past experience and both have shown the ability to catch the football. In the end that’s going to be just one of the assignments for this duo, but a key catch here or there for either one this season could be the difference in a win or loss for the Tigers.
Quote: “(Jalen) has gotten much better,” said Scott Fountain, who coaches the tight ends. “He’s starting to grow up a little bit which he needed to do. Probably in his first year if we had the tight ends, we would have redshirted him. It would have been great, but we just couldn’t. He’s progressed. He’s doing really well blocking on the perimeter. It has kind of been his strength. We’ve got to continue moving forward blocking with the hand down, but we’re making some good progress with him.
“Landon came in and he’s been everything that we thought he would be,” the coach added. “He’s a good athlete, he’s tough, he’s physical, he’s all of those things. I think you wil see him on the field this fall. I think he is a guy who brings a lot playing in space, but with the grittiness and toughness to put his hand down and do some things there.”