Auburn Coach Kodi Burns works with freshman wide receiver Marquis McClain (above) in a recent preseason practice on the Plains
Auburn, Ala.--There is no question that being better at catching the football is a big emphasis for the Auburn Tigers at the wide receiver position this season, but it’s not the only thing that Kodi Burns is working on with his guys. A player that did the dirty work at receiver after moving from quarterback, Burns knows what it takes to make this offense click on all cylinders and that means running the football successfully.
To do that it takes the backs and offensive line doing their part, but it also takes the wide receivers holding blocks on the perimeter to turn five yard runs into big plays. That’s something that was missing from the Auburn offense last season and Burns said the wide receivers have to do their part to help out in the running game when the Tigers aren’t throwing the ball.
“I think that's one of the toughest things to understand how we do things,” Burns said. “This is Auburn football. I told those guys if you're going to be a receiver at Auburn you've got to be able to block down the field.
“We're going to make plays down the field and all that stuff but in our offense, we're run, we take deep shots, play-action offense. When we run the ball we've got to be able to fit up on safeties, cornerbacks, linebackers and be big, physical guys and I think Marquis McClain does fit that role.”
A true freshman, McClain has the body of a player that looks more like an undersized tight end and that could help him get on the field early. He’s just one of a big group of guys that are vying to get into the rotation however. That competition from the younger guys has pushed older players such as Tony Stevens to raise his game to another level.
Tony Stevens is determined to take his game to another level
Saying that Burns brings the energy to the wide receiver room for them and “lights a fire” when he’s around, Stevens is one of the players the Tigers are counting on to take his game to another level. He knows that he has to produce catching the football and making big plays, something he’s worked hard to bring to his game this preseason.
“It’s my last year and I’m just trying to win,” Stevens said. “I’m trying to have a sense of urgency with the younger guys that watch me. I’m trying to give them the same urgency that I have to just fly around and get out there and make the best of my opportunity.”
A big part of that for Stevens is becoming a difference maker even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. Emphasizing what the position can be like by showing the players examples of himself, Darvin Adams and Emory Blake in 2010, Burns has shown the guys the way and junior Jason Smith said they realize the importance of the job.
“It’s been a big impact,” Smith said of the emphasis on being physical. “That’s something that, in previous years, they had success doing, especially with the national championship team. We see that as being our main focus coming into this fall.”
In the end this season’s group of wide receivers will be judged on how many catches, yards and touchdowns they have, but for the team it’s just as important that they do their job on the perimeter in helping the running game. Stevens said it’s something they take seriously and this group is ready to get to it.
“We’re going to be physical, we’re going to hit them in the mouth,” Stevens said. “There’s no more getting hit in the mouth, we’re going to be the ones hitting people in the mouth.”