Elijah Stove and Kyle Davis (above) are two newcomers that should see the field against Clemson
Auburn, Ala.--Looking at the opening game football depth chart there is no question that new faces are a major storyline for the Auburn Tigers at the wide receiver position and that includes more than just the trio of true freshmen Nate Craig, Kyle Davis and Elijah Stove.
With senior Marcus Davis and his 66 career receptions responsible for more catches than the rest of the roster has entering the 2016 season, the young players at the position will be called on to produce in a big way for the Tigers.
The player who has done the most to make a move on the wide receiver depth chart is redshirt freshman Darius Slayton. Known mostly as a defensive back early in his high school playing days, Slayton gained valuable size and strength last year as a redshirt and now stands to be a starter for Saturday night’s game against Clemson.
“Probably the toughness factor is the thing that stands out to me,” Coach Gus Malzahn said of Slayton. “Coach (Kodi) Burns has really demanded toughness from each guy. We’ve really strained them a lot, Coach Burns has strained them a lot, and he’s weathered the storm. He’s a guy I think will get better and better the more he plays, but he’s a tough guy. He’s a tough guy, and he’s reached the standard so far of what Coach Burns expects.”
Darius Slayton is noticeably bigger as he heads into his second year with the Tigers
While none of the true freshmen are listed as starters at wide receiver heading into Saturday night, there is little question that all three should have an opportunity to see some action as they continue to impress physically. With Craig backing up senior Marcus Davis along with Jason Smith, Kyle Davis and Tony Stevens behind Slayton along with Stove behind sophomore Ryan Davis, the head coach said no matter where they are listed on the depth chart he expects each to play a role right away.
“Like I said about the freshman receivers, they are who we thought they were,” Malzahn said. “They ae every bit of who we thought they were. It’s just going to be a matter of how quick they can get comfortable and confident. We are going to play them. They are going to be out there for the first game. The future at wide receiver is very exciting. Once those guys do get comfortable, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Another young player saw his only action for Auburn last season as a kicker. Attempting an onside kick against LSU, sophomore Will Hastings made the move to wide receiver in the spring and in the preseason he became one of the most consistent players for the Tigers on the perimeter.
It’s not a surprise when you look at his success at the position in high school at Pulaski (Ark.) Academy. As a senior he caught 113 passes for 2,040 yards and 23 touchdowns, giving him three-year totals of 193 receptions, 3,664 yards and 49 touchdowns.
With the ability to catch the football and find a way to get open, Hastings is a player that Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said has done everything asked of him to earn an opportunity to show what he can do this season.
"In the spring, and even last fall, he didn't just kick, he played receiver for us as well," Lashlee said. "You look at a guy who is a year-and-a-half into the offense's side of things so he knows it a little better than a guy who just came over. At the end of the day, when we say we're going to compete and let guys have opportunities, it doesn't matter who you are or where you've been on the depth chart, the best guys are going to play. Obviously, he hasn't done anything in a game yet, but he's earned the right to have some opportunities."