Marlon Davidson (above) , an Under Armour All-American, got an early start by joining the team after graduating from high school in December.
Auburn, Ala.--Since Gus Malzahn arrived to take over the football program for the 2013 season, the Auburn Tigers have played freshmen in bunches with the coaching staff wanting to increase the depth and get their guys on the field early to gain valuable experience.
That is expected to be the case again this season with much of the 2016 class expected to play at least a small role this season and several guys could earn spots in the starting lineup this fall.
“There will be more that will help than won't,” Malzahn predicts. “We recruited these guys to play and more of them will than not.”
That starts at the wide receiver position where the Tigers have one of the top classes in the country challenging for playing time this fall. Getting an early start to his Auburn experience in spring practice, Kyle Davis has missed the first two weeks of the preseason after suffering a summer foot injury, but is expected to be back on the field Tuesday when the Tigers get back to work.
He will join fellow classmates Nate Craig, Marquis McClain and Elijah Stove to make for a foursome that should challenge older players such as senior Tony Stevens, junior Jason Smith, sophomoes Stanton Truitt and Ryan Davis along with redshirt freshman Darius Slayton for time in the rotation.
“We'll have to see,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said of how many will play. “All those guys will get an opportunity. Those two weeks of game prep leading up, how people do, will decide a lot.”
Eli Stove has been impressive in preseason practice. He was Under Armour All-American at Niceville, Fla., High School.
In the backfieldr running back Kameron Martin is a player Malzahn said will definitely contribute this season. Providing a home run threat for the offense, Martin’s speed adds another weapon for the Tigers. He could possibly be joined by Malik Miller, a bigger back who has been one of the most improved players this preseason compared to his performance in spring drills.
Another almost sure thing to play at the moment is tight end Landon Rice. Coming off a season in which the tight ends failed to catch a single pass, Rice and sophomore Jalen Harris give the Tigers two very capable players at the position. Not your ordinary freshman, Rice arrived in January and has shown he is ready to challenge for a starting assignment.
Landon Rice was an Under Armour All-American as a high school senior.
“I think he’s picking it up real good,” Kamryn Pettway said of Rice. “I think Landon Rice has a bright future ahead of him.”
On the defensive side of the ball things start with linemen Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown. An early graduate who showed in the spring he’s ready to contribute, Davidson has done nothing to change that this preseason. He is expected to battle Paul James and Byron Cowart for playing time at the strongside end position and could be the starter on opening day.
With talented veterans like Montravius Adams, Dontavius Russell, Devaroe Lawrence and Maurice Swain at tackle, Brown is looking to work his way into the rotation for Coach Rodney Garner. That looks to be almost a certainty based on his play in camp, something that Adams said has been impressive to watch from the 6-5, 330-pounder.
“Coming in as a freshman, everybody has to learn the techniques of the game,” Adams said. “But coming in and just playing with pure athleticism, I think the sky’s the limit. I think he’s done really well in practice.”
Big Derrick Brown was an U.S. Army All-American as a high school senior.
If the Tigers need more help at defensive tackle freshman Antwuan Jackson, a U.S. Army All-American from Cedar Grove High in Ellenwood, Ga., won praise from his position coach in spring drills after arriving on campus in January.
With plenty of depth at the linebacker position it would be a bit surprising to see Tre Threat get into the mix this season, but like Darrell Williams and Montaviuos Atkinson last season he could be used on special teams.
In the secondary John Broussard was a player who could have taken a redshirt season this year, but now will likely be called on to play following the injury to Jamel Dean. While he’s not pushing for a starting role, Broussard could be the fourth cornerback for the Tigers with the status of graduate transfer Marshall Taylor still up in the air.
Another freshman who could see action in the secondary is Daniel Thomas, who has won praise from the coaches for his play at safety. Thomas, who got an offer from the Tigers on signing day, is from Robert E. Lee in Montgomery where he made 87 tackles with seven interceptions as a senior.