Auburn, Ala.--Calling last year’s performance by Auburn’s wide receivers vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks a rough outing would be underselling an afternoon in which the Tigers wideouts dropped eight passes in total. It’s a game that still doesn’t sit well with senior WR Tony Stevens.
The dropped balls were also made a point of focus by new wide receiver coach Kodi Burns in the offseason, and Stevens believes the added attention given to this problem has benefited the Tigers.
“Kodi, he pretty much gets on us about (the dropped passes),” said Stevens. “He really got on us in the spring. He came in saying that receivers were dropping the ball (too much). He’s been doing a lot of ball drills with us and that plays a big part in it, too. Kodi’s been doing a good job.”
Although the Tigers have improved on reducing the number of dropped passes, Stevens had a costly one on the third play of the contest against Mississippi State that bounced off of his hands and resulted in an interception.
“(Coach Gus) Malzahn didn’t really say anything to me during the game,” Stevens said when asked if the coaches or players tried to encourage him after the drop. “He just stopped me on the bus after and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll get it next time.’ I told Sean (White) that I had him and that one was on me.”
Auburn wasn’t afraid to send the ball Stevens’s way pretty soon after, though. White hooked up with Stevens on a 36-yard completion on the next series to get the Tigers in the red zone and they would capitalize quickly with a touchdown.
“It means a lot not only to me but to the coaching staff as well,” said Stevens about the decision to give him another opportunity soon after a mistake. “They trust me. They gave it to me again and again, and I really appreciated that.”
This faith in Stevens was also noted by coordinator Rhett Lashlee who commented on the wide receiver’s progression in his final season on the Plains.
“He’s improved,” said Lashlee. “He’s more consistent. There is still a ball here or there that he’s got to make the play on. Last week I was really proud of the way he responded. You see him gaining more confidence each week.”
Stevens leads the team in catches (24), receiving yards (408) and touchdowns (three), and the Orlando, Fla. native said that he has carried his leadership in game into practice as well.
“I’m trying to lead in everything,” Stevens remarked. “(Marcus Davis and I), being the seniors that we are, we have to have more urgency than in the first six games. We just have to pick it up and take it to a whole other level. As seniors we don’t have many (games) left. We have to give it all we’ve got.”
Stevens pointed out that he “obviously wishes” the Tigers were still undefeated, but he and his teammates still have plenty to play for with the second half of the season beginning Saturday vs. Arkansas (5:00 p.m., ESPN).