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Wil Crews

AU Next Level: Week 1 NFL Recap

By | ESPN 106.7 News | No Comments

A former MVP, a SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a first string NFL corner walk in to a bar. What do they all have in common? Well, they are all former Auburn Tiger football players of course.The MVP (Cam Newton), the Defensive Player of the Year (Derrick Brown) and the first string corner (Carlton Davis) were impressive but not the only former Tigers to make an impact this weekend. Familiar faces on new teams, unproven rookies making their debut and wily vets making an impact – Auburn was all over the NFL in week one.


Cam Newton | New England Patriots

On Sunday, Cam Newton posted his best QB rating (79.7) since week 11 of the 2018 season. Newton went 15-of-19 with 155 passing yards and ran for 75 yards on 15 carries. Is his touchdown celebration ode to the Wakandan king a symbol for his return to superhuman, MVP levels of play? Perhaps not, but the eccentric QB looked collected when passing the ball and flashy when running it – leading the Patriots to a 21-11 victory over the Dolphins. If anything, it does not appear that Bill Belichick and Co. will be bereft of any creativity in terms of how to use the versatile QB. However, they were playing the Dolphins; and while Newton played a near flawless game, the Patriots left much to be desired in terms of the passing game. Next week’s matchup against the Seattle Seahawks – with Bobby Wagner and newly acquired safety Jamal Adams surely keying in on Newton – will be a true glimpse into the trajectory of the Patriots’ season.

Darius Slayton | New York Giants

Probably the second best performance from an Auburn alumnus over the weekend goes to Slayton. The 2018 graduate brought in two touchdown grabs en route to his six-catch, 102-yard performance on Monday night. As a 5th round draft pick, Slayton has delightfully inserted himself into the No. 1 receiver conversation –  recording team highs in both reception yards and touchdowns since being drafted. He has to put together a more complete body of work to solidify himself as a go-to receiver, something that will prove difficult in a Giants offense which is loaded with weapons. Still, Slayton is emerging as one of the best deep threats in the game and looks like one the biggest steals of the 2019 draft.

Peyton Barber | The Washington Football Team

Barber is what he is: a good running back who can thrive in goal-line carry situations. The Washington Football Team appears to already know that, as Barber rushed for 29 yards and two touchdowns in their upset win over the Eagles on Sunday. Barber will never be a bell cow running back but can provide value for a team that is limited in backfield depth.

Noah Igbinoghene | Miami Dolphins

Igbinoghene’s impact didn’t show up on the stat sheet Sunday. The 2020 first round pick registered only two tackles for the whole game. Even though Miami lost the game, the Igbinoghene and the secondary held Newton and the Patriots offense to a pedestrian 155 yards passing. If Igbinoghene can develop into a reliable third cover option, the Dolphins could have one of the best secondaries in the league.

Daniel Carlson | Las Vegas Raiders

Auburn fans know. Daniel Carlson is to kickers what Iron Man is to blockbuster superhero movies. The standard. He’s reliable with a big leg and doesn’t let a missed kick or slump get into his head. Carlson went 2-for-2 on field goals, including a career long 54-yarder in Sunday’s win versus the Panthers. Take that Mike Zimmer.

Derrick Brown | Carolina Panthers

So, Brown didn’t post Aaron Donald-type numbers in his NFL debut. Bummer. But, when he made his first professional tackle, I’m pretty sure I felt a shift in the tectonic plates. The mountainous defensive lineman probably felt like he was right back in college, facing double teams for most of the game. However, he still managed to flash his first-round draft quality with three tackles, one for loss, and a swatted pass.

Carlton Davis & Jamel Dean | Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs may have lost the game, but the starting defensive back pair of Davis and Dean performed better than expected in their week one matchup versus the New Orleans Saints. Last year, Saints receiver Michael Thomas presented a matchup nightmare for all opposing defenses that he faced. Davis took his assignment for most of the game and turned the near indefensible Thomas into a non-factor – holding the premier pass-catcher to three receptions for 17 yards. Combined, the pair had 11 solo tackles, and Dean just nearly missed intercepting Drew Brees as the 41-year-old’s diminishing arm strength was just enough to get the ball over his outstretched fingertips.

 

C.J. Uzomah, Carl Lawson & Josh Bynes | Cincinnati Bengals

The last time we saw Joe Burrow he was dominating the college world with the swagger of an unbeaten heavyweight champ. He looked rather average in his NFL debut sunday – a Bengals jersey can bring anyone down. Still, however, former Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah proved to be a reliable set of hands for the often pressured Burrow. Uzomah caught four passes for 45 yards; solid numbers for the six-year vet. His teammate and former Auburn standout at defensive end, Carl Lawson, recorded five tackles, one for loss, and one sack. Bynes, in his 10th season in the NFL, finished with eight tackles and a sack in the Bengals’ 16-13 loss to the Chargers.

Rookies Daniel Thomas (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Jack Driscoll (Philadelphia Eagles) both made their NFL debuts – technically – but failed to see the field. Likewise, 2020 second round pick Marlon Davidson (Atlanta Falcons) missed action as he is still recovering from a knee injury.

 

 

Breaking Down Auburn v. Kentucky by position – Part 2: Defense & Special Teams

By | ESPN 106.7 News | No Comments

With two and a half weeks until Auburn open the season against Kentucky, the hype for this unusual 2020 campaign is approaching its peak. The Tigers only return five starters from last year’s defense, while the bulk of Kentucky’s defense returns. But they must replace some losses too. A breakdown of the offenses can be found here. The Tigers won four out of five position battles on that side of the ball. Here’s a look at how the defensive breakdown – and special teams – shapes out:


Defensive Line

#94 Tyrone Truesdell

Auburn | Losses: Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson.

Replacing these guys up front will be near impossible for the Tigers this season. Instead, they will have to rely on an experienced linebacker corps and secondary that is untested but loaded with potential. The Tigers ranked No. 17 in scoring defense and No. 27 in total defense in 2019. It’s hard to imagine those numbers improving in 2020, but linebacker K.J. Britt and defensive ends Big Kat Bryant and Tyrone Truesdell could be the catalyst to another top-25 campaign. Even so, the youth of the defensive front is enough to provide the usual levels of optimism that comes with each Kevin Steele defense.

Kentucky | While Auburn had the big names in 2019, the Wildcats defense quietly finished No. 20 in the country in total defense and No. 14 in scoring defense. Seven of the top nine tacklers return. Senior defensive tackle Quinton Bohanna anchors the Wildcat defensive line. Sixth year senior Phil Hoskins, Marquan McCall and Josh Paschal surround the tackle and are pass rushing threats who helped UK finish No. 4 in team sacks in the SEC last year. There’s depth there too. Five-star 2020 signing defensive lineman Justin Rodgers will be looking to make an immediate impact.

Edge: Kentucky


Linebackers

#9 Zakoby McClain and #0 Owen Pappoe

Auburn | I already alluded to senior K.J. Britt. He could very well be the best middle linebacker in the SEC this year. The guys around him are no scrubs either. Owen Pappoe started every game last season as a true freshman and Zakoby McClain famously returned a 100-yard pick-six for a touchdown in last year’s Iron Bowl. The position is lacking in depth, but there’s a reason Lindy’s Sports ranked the unit the best in the SEC heading into 2020.

Kentucky | DeAndre Square, last year’s leading tackler at linebacker (69) and Jamar Watson, returning sack leader (6.5), lead the way for the Wildcats in 2020. Jamin Davis and Chris Oats are other names to watch, but unless two of the UK linebackers make a big jump in production, they will be the thinnest and least intimidating unit on this defense.

Edge: Auburn


Secondary

#20 Jamien Sherwood

Auburn | The Tigers finished with the No. 7 pass defense in the SEC last season. Now, they have to replace all four full-time starters. The good news is that Smoke Monday, Jamien Sherwood and Christian Tutt were all highly rated recruits who already have a decent amount of experience under their belt. Jordyn Peters and Nehemiah Pritchett provide good depth and the Tigers enlisted help from JUCO corner Marco Domio – who may have the inside track on the No.2 starting cornerback role. This unit will be better than expected but there remains much to be proven.

Kentucky | The Wildcats finished with the No. 1 pass defense in the SEC last season. However, this ranking was certainly boosted by the Wildcats avoiding Joe Burrow and the record breaking LSU offense on their 2019 schedule. Still, the corner combination of Cedric Dort and Brandin Echols returns to provide one of the best 1-2 coverage options in the SEC. Furthermore, safety Yusef Corker led the team in tackles in 2019 and anchors the 2020 secondary. Davonte Johnson – who missed 2019 due to injury – and LSU transfer corner Kelvin Joseph round out the back line and make this UK’s deepest positional unit on defense.

Edge: Kentucky


Special Teams

#26 Anders Carlson

Auburn | The Tigers return junior kicker Anders Carlson, who showed his full potential in last year’s Iron Bowl, going 5-5, including a 50-yarder. They also have a new Australian punter, Oscar Chapman, after fellow Aussie Arryn Siposs left the program early after one season on the Plains – his junior year.

Kentucky | The Wildcats return Ray Guy Award winner Max Duffy at punter. After having troubles in the kicking game all season in 2019, there are still questions, but Chance Poore looks next in line for the job unless walk-on Matt Ruffolo steals the show in fall camp.

Edge: Tie


The Wildcats win the defensive side of the ball in this matchup – with two of three units edging the Tigers and a tie on special teams. With the Tigers winning four of five positions on offense, that brings the total to: Auburn 5 | Kentucky 3 with special teams looking like an even matchup. If this doesn’t get you ready for Auburn football, I don’t know what will. The seats at Jordan-Hare Stadium will look unusually cavernous without the full 87,451 supporters attending. But come Sept. 26 at 11 a.m., Auburn fans across the country will be glued to their televisions to see how the Tigers start their 2020 season.

Breaking down Auburn v. Kentucky by position – Part 1: Offense

By | ESPN 106.7 News | No Comments

The Auburn Tigers open their season Sept. 26 at home against the Kentucky Wildcats. The boys in orange and blue bring a revamped defensive unit and loaded offensive arsenal into 2020. While the Tigers will likely mourn the departures of All-Americans Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson on defense, the Wildcats have some big shoes to fill as well – namely Lynn Bowden Jr., the receiver turned quarterback who led the SEC in rushing last year. The following is a position group v. position group breakdown – straight street fighter style – of which team is better prepared for the start of the 2020 season.


Quarterback

#10 Bo Nix

Auburn | Bo Nix – 2019 stats: 2,542 yards, 16 touchdowns; 313 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns; 6 interceptions

Kentucky | The Wildcats return former starter Terry Wilson, who spent 2019 sidelined because of injury, and Troy graduate transfer Sawyer Smith, who has one year of eligibility remaining after injuries also forced him to the bench last year.

Nix returns for his second season with a stacked running back group and experienced wide receivers. No matter who starts for Kentucky, the Wildcat quarterbacks do not possess the upside anywhere close to the level of Nix.

Edge: Auburn


Running Backs

#3 D.J. Williams

Auburn | After losing their leading rusher from 2018-19 – Boobee Whitlow – the Tigers actually appear better off at the ball carrier position. Sophomore D.J. Williams is now the lead returning rusher from last season and has already earned the trust of the coaching staff after a solid 2019. However, he won’t be able to walk into the starting role. Talented redshirt freshman and freshman runners Mark-Anthony Richards and Tank Bigsby are already turning heads at fall camp, and Shaun Shiver and Harold Joiner both carved out niche roles for themselves last season.

Kentucky | Senior A.J. Rose and sophomores Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke all return after each averaged over five yards per carry in 2019. The Wildcats will most likely rely heavily on the experienced run game in week one – and all season – with the lingering uncertainty at quarterback.

While the Wildcats hold the edge in experience, the Tigers more than make up for that in depth. All of the Tigers’ rushers were 4-star recruits coming out of high school, and all of the Wildcats’ were 3-star. Plus, Auburn has alumni and 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year Cadillac Williams as the position group’s coach. That counts for something.

Edge: Auburn


Wide Receivers

#12 Eli Stove

Auburn | Seth Williams was rated the fifth best SEC receiver in Pipeline.com’s preseason rankings. Anthony Schwartz is one of the fastest – if not the fastest – pass catchers in all of football and senior Eli Stove returns as the program’s 18th leading reception-getter of all-time. Not to mention the four 4-star recruits the Tigers signed at the position in the 2020 recruiting class.

Kentucky | In their own right, the Wildcats return a receiving core loaded with experience. Senior Josh Ali, juniors Allen Dailey and Clevan Thomas and sophomore Bryce Oliver all played key roles for Kentucky in 2019. Junior Isaiah Epps could provide a much needed deep threat ability as well.

Even with a group as experienced as what Kentucky has, it’s hard to imagine any one of the pass catchers breaking out in 2020 with the unconvincing options at QB. Nix will have an expanded playbook of passing options under new offensive coordinator and barring regression, will upgrade all of the Tigers weapons to coincide with his growth.

Edge: Auburn


Tight Ends

#87 Brandon Frazier

Auburn | Junior John Samuel Shenker is the Tigers’ lead returning tight end, finishing with 3 receptions for 21 yards and a touchdown in 2019. However, it’s the new guys who pose the biggest threat for Auburn this season. 6-foot-7 freshman Brendan Frazier is scary big and 300-pound J.J. Pegues has been marketed as an athletic specimen who can run, catch and even pass the ball. The Tigers also have Luke Deal and Tyler Fromm, redshirt freshmen who were highly rated coming out of high school.

Kentucky | Senior Justin Rigg and sophomore Keaton Upshaw return as two of the more dangerous receiving threats on the roster, bringing in 11 catches for 128 yards and 7 catches for 78 yards, respectively.

I mentioned Bo Nix’s expanded playbook under first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris; it’s likely to include a plethora of new play designs featuring the tight ends. Kentucky does have a formidable tight end group but with the Quarterback play likely being a weak spot in the Wildcat offense, it’s hard to envision any of the hybrid pass catchers and blockers having a big season out for the Wildcats in 2020.

Edge: Auburn


Offensive Line

#71 Brandon Council and #59 Brodarius Hamm

Auburn | The Tigers lost four of five starters from the 2019 offensive line. To combat that, Auburn brought in three junior college transfers and signed three more in their 2020 class. There are also a couple guys already on the roster, Brodarious Hamm and Austin Troxell, who are looking to slide into starting roles.

Kentucky | Center Drake Jackson, right guard Luke Fortner, left tackle Landon Young and right tackle Darrian Kennard all return to a unit that helped lead Kentucky to an SEC best 278.8 rushing yards per contest in 2019. The Wildcats also brought in an offensive line JUCO transfer of their own – Jeremy Flax – who should compete for immediate snaps next season.

The Wildcats will lean heavily on the run again this season and look for their established guys to set the tone up front. After having a disappointing rushing attack in 2019, the Tigers have a motley crew of unproven guys up front. There’s reason for optimism, but Kentucky can hang their hats on proven results.

Edge: Kentucky


You know how the saying goes, ‘Offense wins games, defense wins championships.’ Well, if this was a championship race, the Tigers are looking like the Jamaican national team heading straight for gold and Kentucky look like a pee-wee team running completely the wrong way. Auburn clearly has the better offense heading into 2020. Stay tuned for the defensive and special teams position breakdowns as the unglamorous side of the ball could swing this week one matchup.

Three Goals for Bo Nix This Season

By | ESPN 106.7 News, Uncategorized | No Comments

Bo Nix was the 2019 SEC Freshman of the Year. He began the season as the unproven namesake of his father and former Auburn QB Pat Nix. Many believed he only won the starting job as veneration for his father’s legacy. It didn’t take long to prove the haters wrong, however. A week one game-winning drive in the top-10 matchup against Oregon was the modern day equivalent to Alexander Hamilton serving as George Washington’s chief staff aide at 22 years old. Okay… Maybe that is a stretch. But the upstart Hamilton and Nix do have something in common. They are [were] ‘young, scrappy and hungry’ and neither threw away their shot!’

After winning personal silverware, but failing to win a bowl game or achieve a 10-win season, hopefully now, Nix ‘will never be satisfied.’ Alright, I’m sorry, enough Hamilton jokes. If I still have you at this point, don’t feel ‘helpless’; we are talking strictly football from here – ‘non-stop.’

With a 10-game SEC only schedule, it will be difficult for Nix to expand his stats from 2019. Still, however, Nix won SEC Freshman of the Year without posting chart-topping numbers. In 13 games, Nix threw for 2,542 yards, an Auburn freshman record 16 TD’s and 6 INT’s. For comparison, Jarrett Stidham threw for 2,794 yards, 18 TD’s and 5 INT’s in his senior season at Auburn in 2018. Stidham made one SEC Championship and that was the pinnacle of his career on the Plains. I’m sure Nix is hoping for more.

In 2020, if he wants to translate his personal success to team triumph, Nix needs to do these three things.


1. Throw more touchdowns:

Nix’s’ 16 TD’s ranked sixth in the SEC. Joe Burrow was an outlier – leading with 60 – but Nix only trailed second ranked Florida QB Kyle Trask by nine (25 total). In terms of interceptions – excluding Burrow and the now graduated Georgia QB Jake Fromm – Nix bests each of the other top-6 touchdown-throwing QB’s, with only six interceptions. So, what does this mean? It means Nix needs to take more chances.

In 2019, Nix averaged 6.7 yards-per-attempt (No. 9 among SEC quarterbacks). That number is far from elite – Joe Burrow led with an average of 10.3. Whether it was the play calls, a lack of confidence or no open receivers, Nix has to fix that this year. With an unproven offensive line, it may be harder done then said, but the caliber of weapons at Nix’s disposal are too enticing to play it safe. 20 touchdowns sounds reasonable enough – two per game. If Nix is going to live up to his hype in year two, that’s honestly the minimum.

2. Take command of the offense:

I want to see Bo Nix unleashed. With a new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Nix can be given graces if he begins the season slowly. However, with reports from fall camp stating that Nix is appearing more comfortable with flipping protections, communicating and reading defenses, I’m bullish on the level of command that Nix will have. A thing that I hear many Auburn fans complain about is the lack of intermediate pass concepts. They have legitimate beef. Nix threw the second most screen passes (100) in all of college football last season. If he is given more control of the offense and allowed to audible when he sees fit, the number of short, safe passes – and the anger-induced high blood pressures of thousands of Tiger fans – will undoubtedly subside.

3. Be the best QB in the SEC:

This may be wishful thinking, but if Nix can accomplish the two aforementioned goals, then he will be well on his way to this one. With the departure of three mainstay SEC quarterbacks, Burrow, Fromm and Tua, the title of best QB in the SEC is totally up for grabs. For Nix to claim it, he first needs to improve on last year’s completion percentage (57.6%). Secondly, he needs to improve his intermediate and deep throws as too often the ball lost velocity and wobbled through the air on a long pass from Nix last season. And lastly, trust his teammates. Nix’s backyard football style of play can come in handy at times, but can be detrimental when he tries to do too much at the sake of making the easy play. In 2020, Nix has to know that he can make any play – but also know when not to.


It sounds simple. If Nix believes he is the best quarterback in the SEC – then he will be. Betonline.ag put Nix fourth in the Heisman odds for SEC players. He was behind Mac Jones (who he beat last season), Jamie Newman (the Wake Forest transfer QB who was projected to start for Georgia until recently opting out) and Myles Brennan (backup to Burrow at LSU last season). Newman isn’t playing; Jones and Brennan have National Championship rings – but as backups; and Nix already has more experience as an SEC starter than all of them combined.

History has its eyes on you Bo Nix. Make Alexander Hamilton proud.

Free Agent Destinations: 2019-20 Auburn Players

By | ESPN 106.7 News | No Comments

Derrick Brown, No. 7 overall to the Carolina Panthers, Noah Igbinoghene, No. 30 overall to the Miami Dolphins, Marlon Davidson second round to the Atlanta Falcons, Jack Driscoll, fourth round, Daniel Thomas fifth round and Prine Tega Wanogho in the sixth round; these are the players who were drafted from the 2019 Auburn Tigers. Most everyone knew those names, and their respective destinations, but they weren’t the only Tigers to move on from the program to pursue a professional career.

These are the guys who bet on themselves, with the odds stacked against them, but belief and motivation in their corner. Here is a look at the Auburn players who have made their way on to NFL practice squads and their chances of earning game time this season.


Prince Tega Wanogho – Offensive Lineman: Wanogho was drafted by the Eagles but was among the few players released in the final rounds of cuts to solidify the active roster. The Eagles drafted him for a reason, and they picked him up immediately, signing him to the practice squad. The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL but were riddled with injuries last season. There is premium on protecting quarterback Carson Wentz and Wanogho’s left tackles designation means he could be groomed into the franchise’s next vital blind side blocker.

Mike Horton – Offensive Lineman: Horton was signed as an undrafted free agent to the Carolina Panthers. He was then cut and signed to the practice squad. The Panthers have one of the worst offensive lines in the league in 2020. If injuries or poor play afflict the Panthers’ pass blockers, Horton could quickly have the opportunity to be called up to the 53-man roster to serve as a backup.

Arryn Siposs – Punter: Leaving the Plains early, declaring after his junior season, Siposs has been signed to the Lions practice squad. Typically, it’s a never-ending ferris wheel of rotation for punters in the NFL, meaning Siposs could get a shot with any number of teams if a starter is failing to produce or gets injured.

Javaris Davis – Defensive Back: Davis was the Tigers’ No. 2 corner last season but showed the pace required to survive as a professional defensive back. Davis has signed to the Dolphins practice squad. With all-pro caliber corners Xavier Howard and Byron Jones – and first round pick and fellow Tiger Igbinoghene – it will be hard for Davis to get a look in at South Beach.

Nick Coe – Defensive Lineman: Coe went through most of training camp with the New England Patriots, the team who had the most players opt of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 or other reasons. Coe did not play much for the Tigers in 2019 but was thought to be a dominant SEC defensive end after his 2018 season. Coe was signed to the Dolphins practice squad and with the right work ethic, undoubtedly has the potential to work his way onto a NFL roster.

Jeremiah Dinson – Safety: The Tigers leading tackler of 2019 went overlooked in the 2020 NFL draft with his defensive backfield partners Igbinoghene and Daniel Thomas harboring most of the hype. He was originally signed by the Detroit Lions but failed to make a final roster after being cut by the Miami Dolphins. He recently had a tryout for the Washington Football Team, one of the few teams with open practice squad spots remaining and a severely lacking defense.

Marquell Harrell – Offensive Lineman: Harrell was cut by the Buffalo Bills and failed to be picked up for the practice squad. Former Auburn wide receiver Duke Williams was a part of the same roster cuts but did make the practice squad. The Bills are a run-first offense who will need insurance policies for protecting quarterback Josh Allen; Harrell could find himself on their practice squad – or any other team’s practice squad – before long.

Biggest questions for Auburn at fall camp

By | ESPN 106.7 News | No Comments

Auburn returned to practice for the first time in a week this Tuesday. The Tigers had 16 players confirmed with COVID-19 and cancelled practices because of the absences. With just over three weeks until Auburn play their first game at home against Kentucky on Sept. 26, the Tigers still have a number of questions to address before the end of fall camp. Here are five they need to answer:


1. How much will Bo Nix progress in year 2?

#10 Bo Nix

Nix won SEC Freshman of the Year in 2019, but his season was far from perfect. At times, the quarterback looked uncomfortable in the pocket and too often showed a willingness to forgo his reads and try to escape with his legs. He’s not the biggest guy back there, and my time as an intramural QB makes me sympathetic to running for your life – although Nix most definitely has a step on me. In all seriousness, I don’t think anyone is questioning last year’s start of the season decision to start the true freshman over now transferred Joey Gatewood. The looming detriment to Nix’s progression is the loss of spring practice time to implement new offensive coordinator Chad Morris’s system. Still, the Tigers’ weapons around the second-year quarterback are only getting better and Morris has a record of developing great quarterbacks. Nix will need to show more consistency – especially on the road – this season, but the struggles he had in year one should have built his resilience and confidence going forward. There’s no denying it, Auburn’s success in 2020 hinges on the 20-year-old’s arm.


2. How much will Chad Morris impact the Auburn offense?

#86 Tight End Luke Deal

The former Arkansas head coach struggled as the leader of the razorbacks. However, he’s not far removed from being thought of as one of the best offensive minds in college football. Malzahn has been questioned in the past for overshadowing and overriding his offensive coordinators’ play calls. Morris and Malzahn have a relationship that goes all the way back to their high school coaching days so Morris should be given full trust to run his system. Hopefully, Morris’s biggest impact will be on Nix’s growth but one change in philosophy has Tiger fans mesmerized by the possibilities – the integration of the tight ends. This means Auburn’s offense is expected to implement more short to intermediate pass concepts – slants! Morris’s arrival and new system go hand-in-hand with Nix’s growth. Malzahn needs to give his friend and new offensive coordinator full reign this season for the Tigers to reach the lofty heights they are striving for.


3. How will the Auburn defense reload?

Sophomore linebacker #10 Owen Pappoe

Auburn lost four trustworthy secondary members and defensive cornerstones Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson from the 2019 defense. However, during his tenure, Kevin Steele has proven that he can consistently field a dominant defense, despite the turnover. There’s no shortage of young talent to step up, but much remains to be seen. The Tigers will likely lean on their experienced linebacker corps to lead the defensive unit and a group of lightly experienced backup secondary members look poised to turn into dominant starters. 2020 will be the biggest challenge of Steele’s five-year tenure on the Plains; but with the impending growth on offense, the Tigers might get by if this year’s defense is merely disruptive, not dominant.

 


4. How will the offensive line shape out?

Offensive linemen Brandon Council #71 and Nick Brahms #52

The Tigers lost four of five starters from the 2019 offensive line. But the program has failed to field a 1,000 yard rusher the past two seasons after producing one for nine straight seasons from 2009-2017. So, the new faces are more reason for optimism than worry. Running back is arguably the deepest position on the team, but they will be running behind either first-year starters or junior college transfers. Malzahn needs to run the ball effectively for his offense to thrive – but does Morris? A shift of emphasis to the passing game, getting the ball out of Nix’s hand quickly and timely run calls may be the key for the 2020 offensive line.

 

 


5. Will anyone else opt out?

With 2019 National Champion LSU experiencing the biggest breakup since NSYNC – whether by opt outs or the draft – the Tigers from the Yellowhammer State will be hoping to avoid anymore losses. Projected starting linebacker Chandler Wooten, projected rotational linebacker John Marsh and defensive back Traivon Leonard have all announced their decision to sit out the season due to COVID-19 concerns. The number of recent confirmed cases throughout the team caused a week-long shutdown, causing COVId concerns to grow even more. While health and safety are always the number one priority – the Tigers are running out of time to finalize the depth chart. Any more loses would would only stunt the growth of this young talented team.

Will Gus Malzahn land on the Hot Seat again this season?

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Gus Malzahn began his head coaching tenure at Auburn in 2013, claiming an SEC Championship and leading the Tigers to the national championship game in his first season. Seemingly every year since, a portion of Tiger fans are fed up with the head coach’s actions – repeatedly calling for his job. They say, ‘He always plays down to his opponents. He’s too predictable on offense. His methods are outdated.’ Others, with whom Malzahn still finds favor, say, ‘He’s still a young coach. It’s unfair to compare him to Saban. If the players could just execute…’

Whichever side you’re on, there’s no denying that Malzahn has struggled to repeat the success he had in his first year on the Plains. Many Auburn fans ignore his unmatched record against Saban and are unconvinced that Malzahn measures up with the other highly touted coaches in the SEC; Kirby Smart at Georgia, Ed Orgeron at LSU and Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M. Yes, Malzahn and his Tigers have had some great moments, but they’ve had about as many head-scratching gaffes too.

ESPN’s most recent projections had the Tigers going 7-3 this year, with a 5.3% chance to win the SEC. So, with the season only 24 days away, let us examine each of the Tigers’ fixtures to determine how Malzahn can outplay the numbers, outdo the competition and overcome his haters.


Sept 26: Home v. Kentucky – The last time Auburn played a SEC home opener was versus Arkansas in 2014. The Tigers won that game handily, 45-21.  It would be nice to open with a similar blowout, but the Tigers have made a habit of close opening games in recent seasons – beating Washington by five in 2018 and Oregon by six in a last year’s thriller. If former Auburn – current Kentucky – quarterback Joey Gatewood gains eligibility, the Tigers could be in for another close one to open 2020.

Oct. 3: Away v. Georgia – The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will be played on its earliest calendar date since the teams’ first meeting in 1892. If could be beneficial to get the Bulldogs so early in the season. With a new starting QB and RB, Georgia will be lamenting from lost practice time and the Tigers could get a season defining win in week two. A loss doesn’t ruin the season, but leaves little room for error if Malzahn and the Tigers want to rematch the Dogs in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.

Oct 10: Home v. Arkansas – Chad Morris revenge game? The Tigers love to embarrass Arkansas and they will again; either riding the momentum from last week’s Georgia win, or taking out their frustration on the Razorbacks after a disappointing loss.

Oct. 17: Away v. South Carolina – Auburn should have little issue with the Gamecocks.

Oct 24: Away v. Ole Miss – First year Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin probably wishes this game was a week later on Halloween – maybe he could dress up as a good football coach. This should be part 1 of 2 in sweeping the Mississippi teams.

Oct. 31: Home v. LSU – What’s scarier than inviting the defending champions into Jordan-Hare Stadium on the spookiest day of the year? Probably the fact that the stadium will only be filled to 20% capacity to witness this heavyweight matchup. The Bayou Bengals return only four starters from their 2019 National Championship team. After coming the closest to defeating LSU last season – IN Death Valley – the Tigers should have a good chance against this significantly weaker LSU team.

Nov. 7: Bye

Nov. 14: Away v. Mississippi State – Part two of Auburn’s Mississippi sweep. Davis Wade Stadium wont be nearly as intimidating with a mitigated number of fans ringing their should-be-banned cowbells. Sorry Mike Leach, your marriage advice wont help you here, and Gus Malzahn is the trick play king of this conference.

Nov. 21: Home v. Tennessee – No one likes Tennessee. They cling to wins and claim to be contenders just to finish 6-6 every season. Upperclassmen on this Auburn team have as much a reason to dislike the Volunteers as anyone and should be plenty motivated for this game. Auburn lost at home versus Tennessee in their last matchup in 2018. Even if the Tigers slightly peek ahead to next week’s Iron Bowl, they should avenge the loss from two years ago against what is honestly a much improved Tennessee team.

Nov. 28: Away v. Alabama – Will Mac Jones or Bryce Young be Alabama’s starter by this point? Will the Auburn offensive line be improved enough to handle what Sports Illustrated declared as the Tide’s most improved position group – the defensive line? Will the Tigers defensive line be able to stop the always potent Alabama rushing attack? This game is too far into the future to predict, but simply put – I believe Bo Nix will never lose to Alabama as the starting quarterback for Auburn.

Dec. 5: Home v. Texas A&M – Auburn and A&M have played in close games virtually every year since 2013, with the largest margin of victory being 16. The two programs are jockeying for a place among the elites in the SEC. Fisher has yet to have the same success at A&M that he saw while coaching at Florida State. That still doesn’t make his team any less intimidating. If the Tigers are coming off an Iron Bowl loss, they may lack the motivation to finish the season strong. On the other hand, a victory in the Iron Bowl would probably mean Auburn are contending and will give them every motivation to finish the year with a win.


There it is; simple. A clean sweep of Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tennessee is the bare minimum –reasonably fair – expectation for Malzahn and the Tigers this season. Combine that with a win over one of Texas A&M or LSU; as always, avoid dropping both games against rivals Georgia and Alabama; and that would amount to a pretty solid year. But is good, really good enough anymore? Or do Auburn fans just have unrealistic expectations? 8-2, Malzahn’s job is safe. 7-3 with a win against a rival – probably safe. Anything else, and the Gus Bus may be low on gas. Still, the Tigers running the table and winning the SEC Championship – if we get there – doesn’t seem too far fetched. I’m starting to think that is the only way Malzahn will get the credit he deserves.

 

 

Besides QB – who is Auburn’s most invaluable player?

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A recent report stated that 16 Auburn players have contracted COVID-19 and as a resulting, fall practice was temporarily shut down. It got me thinking. Who is the Tigers’ most invaluable player? Obviously Bo Nix is important, probably most important given the nature of his position. But other than quarterback, whose absence would hurt the the Tigers the most? It wasn’t easy to decide. First, I eliminated the players who I know Auburn could live without; second, the players whose absences would be survivable, but hurt the Tigers; and last, the man who, in every sense of the word, is irreplaceable.


Too Deep:

These are three value rich position groups for Auburn. I’m not saying the losing a player in this group would fail to impact the Tigers. I am saying, however, that many of these players have the rotational value of a soap-opera actor. Their backups are reputable enough to produce in their stead.

1. Running Backs: D.J. Williams, Shaun Shivers and Harold Joiner all return with valuable experience from last season. Mark-Anthony Richards and Tank Bigsby are both highly rated recruits with jaw-dropping highlight reels. Even if one back were injured or ill, the workload would be spread out through one of the deepest running backs rooms of Gus Malzahn’s tenure.

2. Offensive Line: We can eliminate the blockers up front for a totally different reason than running backs. While the ball-carriers arguably have too much talent, the offensive line is worriedly inexperienced. The Tigers lost 4-of-5 starters from the 2019 unit, with center Nick Brahms returning as the only shoe in to start in 2020. To make up for the losses, the Tigers brought in three junior college linemen and signed three more as freshmen. In total there are 18 linemen on the Tigers 2020 roster; 17 are competing for a starting spot. Losing one, or even two, wouldn’t spell doom for the Tigers this year.

3. Secondary: The guys at the back of Kevin Steele’s defense are in a similar situation to the offensive line. Losing four starters from 2019, the unit has loads of production to replace. Still, the secondary has multiple players who saw action in 2019; Smoke Monday, Christian Tutt, Roger McCreary, Jamien Sherwood and JUCO transfer Marco Domio provide plenty of depth and possess sufficient ability to lock down opposing receivers this season.

 


Stings, but Survivable:

Big seasons from these two players could take the Tigers from good to great. Ultimately, however, the loss of their production would not be insurmountable.

1. Big Kat Bryant: A senior defensive end who returns as the lead pass rusher for 2020. Sequels are always worse – unless you’re Shrek 2 – so no one expects Auburn’s defensive line to repeat the dominance of 2019. However, Bryant does have immense pressure on him to get results as he had a team-best nine quarterback hurries, but only finished with 1.5 sacks in 2019. If the Tigers were to lose him, the defensive line would be dangerously unproven. Still, the defense under Steele has always remained solid and the youth behind Bryant could only be benefit from the opportunity of more playing time.

 

2. Seth Williams: Williams is a junior wide receiver who reminds me of my first car. Nothing too flashy, but man, he is reliable. The 6-foot-3, 211-pound pass catcher ranks 17th all time in career receiving yards and is looking to become Auburn’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Ronney Daniels in 1999. This one was hard because no one on Auburn’s roster has the combination of size, speed and hands – plus experience – that Williams has. If he were to miss time, Anthony Schwartz would be keyed on by opposing defenses and the rushing game would suffer from stacked defensive fronts. He is the ultimate safety net for Nix. However, the loaded tight end group and other experienced receivers like Eli Stove could potentially make up for Williams’ production if he’s out.


Mr. Irreplaceable: K.J. “Downhill” Britt

Britt is the leader for the entire Auburn defense. A young unit that needs guidance would suffer if Britt were to miss time. The linebacker group itself has already taken considerable loses with projected starter Chandler Wooten and John Marsh sitting out due to COVID-19. No doubt, Owen Pappoe would perform admirably as Britt’s replacement, but he most likely needs one more year before evolving into an elite SEC linebacker. Ultimately, Britt is an extension of Steele. He knows where to be and where everyone else should be. With an inexperienced defensive line, he can provide much needed explosiveness plugging the run and pursuing the quarterback. The common theme with everyone mentioned before is the room for growth. While Britt could always improve, he may already be the most talented player on Auburn’s roster. That makes him undeniably the most important.

 

 

 

 

Three goals for Auburn in 2020

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The 2020 football season is rapidly approaching. It promises to be unlike any other before. With under four weeks until Auburn’s first game, the Tigers are fully invested into fall camp. Defensive end Big Kat Bryant recently said he is “taking it day-by-day.” That may be a good strategy for the players, but the coaching staff must prepare the team for this unique season with worthy endgame results in mind. Tigers! Assemble! With questions surrounding the offensive and defensive line, linebacker depth, running backs, etc., here are three goals that Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff can begin to focus on for the upcoming season.


1. Balance on offense:

First, at quarterback, Bo Nix. He needs to make good decisions – with his arm and his legs – and the second year quarterback will be poised for a breakout season. At running back, a crowded group has the versatility and potential to dominate opposing defenses. Next, the wide receivers that are delectably domineering; Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove leading the way.  Additionally, Anders Carlson’s evolution into the best kicker – with the most swag – in the SEC. Lastly, I’ve returned FROMM the future to tell you that Chad Morris will use his tight ends a great DEAL (Tyler Fromm and Luke Deal are two redshirt freshmen tight ends).  That’s what I mean by balanced. But it’s easier said than done. If the Tigers can get the most out of an unproven offensive line, and utilize an overstocked arsenal of weapons at wide receiver and running back, they could easily be the SEC’s most complete offense in 2020.

2. Finish with a top-15 defense:

In 2019, Auburn finished No. 28 in total defense and No. 17 in scoring defense. After losing six starters on defense, including SEC Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brown, pundits would expect the Tigers to regress in 2020. However, I am no pundit, and like I said before, I have been to the future. But one doesn’t have to risk altering the space-time continuum to know that Kevin Steele is the best defensive coordinator in college football. The Tigers are retooled with junior college transfers and reloaded with talented underclassmen. The linebacker group is one of the best in the country, even with Chandler Wooten sitting out the season and before half the conferences decided not to play this fall. The defensive line could be an issue, but the guys behind them should be more than capable of performing their fiduciary duties to assist front line. Lastly, the secondary. On paper, it looks like a heavily weakened unit, with four starters from last year’s team gone. However, most of these guys slated to start in 2020 are like a Christopher Nolan film – once you see the trailer, you know it’s going to be good. Christian Tutt is the lone returning starter at nickel corner but this may be the deepest unit on the team. Roger McCreary, Jordyn Peters and Smoke Monday all showed the ability to make big plays in limited action in 2019 and junior college transfer Marco Domio is turning heads at camp.

Last season, Auburn’s defense was forced to save games instead of end them. The offensive struggles forced the defensive numbers to take a hit. Therefore this year, even with such a magnitude of lost production, when the offense improves, the defense will too.

3. Dominate weaker SEC opponents:

Auburn has a history of playing down to their opponents. The narrow win in 2017 against Mercer, and the staggering loss in 2018 versus Tennessee stick out to me. Now, with a shortened 10-game SEC-only schedule, it is more imperative than ever to avoid dropping games. Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Tennessee are must wins. But first, the Tigers take on Kentucky in week one. Whether or not former Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood will suit up for the Wildcats remains unsure. One thing that is for sure, the Tigers could use a convincing win to boost the team’s confidence heading into a potentially season defining week two matchup against Georgia. If they struggle, or even lose against the Wildcats, the Tigers could begin the season 0-2 and a domino effect of poor performances could follow.


“Your TALENT determines what you can do. Your MOTIVATION determines how much you are willing to do. Your ATTITUDE determines how well you do it,” said College Football Hall of Fame head coach Lou Holtz. The Tigers have one of the most talented rosters in recent memory. They should be plenty motivated after a rather disappointing 2019. If the Tigers maintain the correct attitude throughout the season, then 2020, regardless of circumstances, could be one of Gus Malzahn and Auburn’s best years yet.

 

The Auburn Family extends to Gus Malzahn’s coaching staff

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War Eagle! Go Tigers! Beat Bama! These are the things often heard the moment you step onto Auburn University’s campus.

Supporters of the Tigers know how interconnected the fanbase is. Alumni know it even more. But the link between the fans and football is not the only thing that makes Auburn special. The Loveliest Village on the Plains is comprised of a family – The Auburn Family – that stretches nationwide and across the world.

Whether it’s rolling the historic oak trees, relaxing on the picturesque Samford Lawn or the smell of freshly made popcorn in Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn is ingrained into the hearts and minds of those who love it. For the eight former Auburn players on Gus Malzahn’s staff, the story is no different.

During their time at Auburn, these players were perhaps the most beloved members of the Auburn Family. However, it is often thought that once an athlete’s four years are finished, they either pursue a professional career or move into the workforce – effectively forfeiting their value to the schools, fans and the media. But Auburn is a family; no one ever really leaves Auburn; no one is ever truly forgotten. The Auburn Family is robustly evident in so many ways, but this one in particular is unique. Most of these guys played for Malzahn, and I cannot stress enough how the Gus Bus would fail to roll without them. What did they do for Auburn in the past? What are they doing now to strengthen the Tigers in the future? Here is a breakdown of what these eight former players turned current coaches really mean to the Auburn Family.

Coaching Staff

Kodi Burns – Co-Offensive Coordinator/WRs: In 2007, Burns became the first freshman to start at quarterback for Auburn since Gabe Gross in 1998. He later switched to wide receiver and his greatest achievement had to be his opening touchdown grab against Oregon in the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Burns began his coaching tenure at Auburn as a graduate student, working with the 2013 offense that finished first nationally in rushing.  After two years away, the former quarterback turned wide receiver returned to his alma mater in 2016. Since then Burns has been one of Auburn’s most valuable recruiters and one of Malzahn’s most trusted advisors.

Rodney Gardner – Assoc. Head Coach/DL: Gardner was an All-SEC player during his Auburn heyday. He also captained the 1988 team that captured the SEC title. He spent his first five years, 1990-1995, coaching for Auburn before climbing the ladder at other universities. Gardner returned to Auburn in 2013 as associate head coach and defensive line coach. He has held the position ever since and has helped Auburn transition into the defensive powerhouse it is today.

 

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams – Assistant Coach/RB: With by far the most impressive playing resume of anyone on this list, Williams is the least experienced, and newest, member on the coaching staff. The All-American helped Auburn to an undefeated 2004 season and was the 2005 NFL Rookie of the Year. Williams finished ahead of Bo Jackson as Auburn’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and second to the Heisman winner in total rushing yards. The seven-year pro returned to Auburn in 2019 and provides mentorship to Auburn’s runners, and a good bit of street cred to the coaching staff.

 

Travis Williams – Co-Defensive Coordinator/LBs: Like Cadillac, Williams was a crucial piece in Auburn’s 2004 undefeated season. He led the team in tackles (84) and earned All-SEC honors on the Tigers’ way to a Sugar Bowl win. Williams had a brief stint in the NFL then as a high school coach before returning to his alma mater in 2009 as a graduate assistant. He left again, but could not stay away, returning to Auburn as a defensive analyst in 2014. Since then he has risen in the coaching ranks among Malzahn’s staff, becoming a key recruiter and developer of talent. He even dropped an epic remixed rap song, name checking and hyping up the Auburn players.

Support Staff

Jorrell Bostrom – Director of Player Development: The first Auburn player of Tongan heritage, Bostrom played in every game on the offensive line, punt, field goal and PAT units in 2009 and 2010. He was on the field when Wes Byrum kicked the game-winning field goal in the 2010 BCS National Championship game. From there, he spent three seasons with Auburn as an administrative assistant. He then joined Malzahn’s staff in 2014 as assistant director of player development before being promoted to director in 2015 – a position he has held ever since.

Kenny Carter – Assistant Director of Player Development: As a player, Carter was a member of the 2010 championship team and a key member of the team that reached the championship game in 2013. He joined Malzahn’s staff in 2015. Fun fact: his brother is former Auburn player and 2020 second round pick, Marlon Davidson.

Josh Holsey – Defensive Grad Assistant: Holsey was a versatile cornerback/safety hybrid who made 31 starts for the Tigers between 2012-16. He led Auburn’s defense with three interceptions in 2016 and was drafted in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL draft. Holsey joined Malzahn’s staff this past spring and begins his first full year this season.

Barrett Trotter – Offensive Analyst: After backing up Cam Newton in 2010, Trotter became the Tigers’ starter in 2011 and led the team to a bowl victory over Virginia. He spent four years in the NFL serving as a scouting and coaching assistant before joining North Carolina as an offensive assistant in 2017. He joined Malzahn’s staff as an offensive analyst in 2018.