The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 day ago

Three takeaways from Auburn’s 2020 depth chart

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

At long last, it is game week for the Auburn Tigers. Auburn and Kentucky will kick off this Saturday at 11:00 a.m. on the SEC Network. In advance of the contest, head coach Gus Malzahn released Auburn’s week one depth chart on Tuesday. A number of questions that Auburn fans may have are directly addressed with this new information. However, the news on the depth chart may also raise a few eyebrows in relation to the defensive line and secondary, specifically.

Undoubtedly, players will move up or down the depth chart over the course of the season based on quality of play, injury, COVID-19 protocol or weekly changes to the gameplan. But, the initial depth chart gives fans insight into who some of the impact players for Auburn in 2020 will be.

Let’s take a look at three key takeaways from Auburn’s 2020 depth chart:

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New-look offensive line
Coming into the season, it was known that Auburn would have a number of new faces on the offensive line after graduating four of the five starters from last year’s group. The new depth chart now gives clarity to who the Tigers expect to make up the unit in 2020.

Nick Brahms is the only returning starter and retains his spot at the center position. The starters at guard are Tashawn Manning and graduate transfer Brandon Council, respectively. As expected, Brodarious Hamm has earned the starting slot at the right tackle position. The only ambiguity in the offensive line position group is at left tackle with Alec Jackson OR Austin Troxell listed as the starter. This indicates that Auburn considers these six players the top options for the five available spots.

It will be critical this season that all six “starters” and the guys listed second or third on the depth chart are ready to perform this year at a position that is often affected by injury and could always have players unavailable due to COVID-19. It was widely known that the success of the offensive line would be key to Auburn having a productive offense this year, we now know the individuals who have earned the first chance to make that happen.

18 true freshmen make an appearance

Although no true freshmen are listed as first-teamers, these young players are littered throughout the Auburn depth chart. Seven newcomers appear on the offensive side of the ball, 10 freshmen made the depth chart on defense and Australian import Oscar Chapman is listed as the potential starter at punter.

This is an impressive showing from the 2020 signing class and may signal great things to come for Auburn. Having quality depth is always important, but this year with a 10-game conference-only schedule, no spring practice and contact tracing procedures that could sideline players by the handful, many of these young men will be called upon in the here and now.

Only time will tell which of these players’ impacts will shape the Tigers’ season this fall, but history tells us that these young athletes will be called upon to deliver in high leverage moments this year. Whether or not they are up to the challenge is likely to determine the outcome of some games and even the season itself.

Surprises on the defensive side of the ball

Kevin Steele’s side of the ball has been one of the most consistent units in college football since his arrival in 2016. He and his staff have developed a clear plan of attack, a successful way of working together and an eye for players that fit the scheme. So, even if there are some shocks, Steele has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt.

One of the surprises is the starting cornerback opposite of Roger McCreary. Last week, Steele indicated that there were up to five players competing for that position, so it is not a complete shock that redshirt freshman Jaylin Simpson earned the starting spot against Kentucky. However, many would have guessed that Marco Domio, who was just signed from junior college, or Nehemiah Pritchett would be the last man standing in the competition. Simpson does not have much experience, but if Steele and company trust him to get the job done, then that is a pretty good endorsement.

The most unforeseen developments on the depth chart occur on the defensive line. Colby Wooden starting at defensive tackle is not something that has been discussed anywhere until today. Kevin Steele spoke highly of Wooden last week in his press conference, but the redshirt freshman who signed as a defensive end last year earning the tackle spot next to Tyrone Truesdell was still pretty shocking.

Another unexpected outcome is that four true freshmen are listed on the defensive line depth chart, including Jeremiah Wright, who signed as an offensive lineman in December. Seeing Zykevious Walker listed at defensive tackle ahead of the two junior college defensive linemen that Rodney Garner signed in January may also catch fans off guard.

Coach Garner and coach Steele have a proven track record of getting defensive linemen ready to play in the SEC, but it may just be that the athletes getting the most opportunities in the trenches this year are a little more green than we are used to seeing.

Bonus takeaway

How about Shaun Shivers? Listed at only 5-7 and 179 lbs, Shivers earned the starting spot at tailback and was named one of the team captains. I am a little bit skeptical that Shivers will be an every-down back, but what an accomplishment for a guy who has been doubted because of his size throughout his entire career.

See the whole depth chart:

Twitter/ @byNathanKing

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

, and 4 days ago

College football power rankings: Bama stands ready at No. 1; Ohio State welcomed back

(Pixabay, YHN)

The big kids come back to play on Saturday. Until that happens, there is one more week of the Yellowhammer college football power rankings without the SEC having been on the field.

Yellowhammer’s rankings are determined by the combined votes of our experts. Their individual votes can be seen with an explanation of their rankings.

Here is where we are after week 3.

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Zack Shaw

1. Clemson: Clemson has badly beaten two overmatched opponents in the first two weeks. That is exactly what you expect great teams to do.

2. Alabama: Nick Saban and company deserve the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

3. Ohio State: Welcome to the party! Simply by announcing their intention to play this season, Ryan Day, Justin Fields and the Buckeyes deserve heavy consideration.

4. Oklahoma: The explosive Sooner offense and consistent success, recently, give Oklahoma the nod over the remaining teams at this point.

5. Texas: The Longhorns have one win under their belt already and are poised to add many more in 2020 led by QB Sam Ehlinger and coach Tom Herman.

6. Georgia: Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs will get their opportunity to move up on this list as the SEC kicks off this week.

7. Miami: The Hurricanes have the best resume in the country, so far. Led by explosive playmaker D’Eriq King, and a talented offense, Miami could move up this list even further if the defense improves.

8. Auburn: Gus Malzahn’s Tigers get their first chance to prove they belong in this list against Kentucky in week 1. Auburn has enough good players, will the Tigers have enough consistency?

Tim Howe

1. Alabama: Without even playing, it has become more obvious that the Alabama Crimson Tide is the best team in the country.

2. Ohio State: Complaining, threats and chest thumping was Ohio State’s reaction to ____. (Possible answers: 1) last year’s playoff loss, 2) the Big Ten cancelling its season, or 3) pretty much anything.)

3. Georgia: The D’Wan Mathis hype train picked up considerable speed this week. We are buying stock in that version of the Georgia offense.

4. Clemson: Dabo Swinney’s second team never scored against The Citadel, a team playing a four-game schedule this season.

5. Florida: Kyle Trask’s journey to become a starting quarterback on a top-5 team is not highlighted enough.

6. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost another key player to an opt-out this week. We want to believe this is the year for the Jimbo Fisher-Kellen Mond combo to break through, but we’re getting awfully anxious.

7. Texas: Same scenario in Austin as with their in-state rival…”we want to believe this is the year.” The Longhorns enjoyed a solid win against a bad team last week. Not too much else was learned.

8. Auburn: Gus Malzahn’s Tigers occupy the spot previously held by a North Carolina team which will not face an opponent between September 12 and October 3. We cannot wait to see what Chad Morris does to the Auburn offense.

Paul Shashy

1. Alabama: Game week is here! RTR. Last year was unusual because the playoff did not include Alabama. This year will be different. Alabama is reloaded and ready to roll. Linebacker Dylan Moses returning is huge, and Alabama’s defense will be back to their standard. Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Brian Robinson, and Jalen Waddle will lead the offense.

2. Clemson: Clemson will have college football’s most explosive duo in running back Travis Etienne and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Clemson has the two best players in the ACC and one of the country’s easiest schedules; they’ll be in the playoff.

3. Ohio State: The BIG 10s sudden return has jolted projections and rankings. Look for Ohio State to be playoff contenders, especially with Justin Fields at QB.

4. Texas A&M: Texas A&M brings back nearly everyone from last year. I believe this is the year Jimbo Fisher gets his shot. They go to Auburn and Alabama, which is rough, but I think they’ll win one of the two.

5. Notre Dame: 2-0 is a good start, but they didn’t look all that strong vs. Duke. Notre Dame is one of the more experienced teams in college football this year; that’s why they hold the five spot. As usual, they have a much easier schedule than most other teams in my top 8. Notre Dame vs. Clemson in November will be one of the great games of the year.

6. Texas: They looked fine in their first game against UTEP. Texas brings back much of their talent, and I think it’s time for Tom Herman to finally get Texas back to what they once were as a powerhouse in CFB.

7. Auburn: Bo Nix is returning and should be much improved, especially considering the depth and speed at wide receiver. They should be a popular dark horse choice for the college football playoff.

8. Oklahoma: Easy cupcake game to start out, but they looked strong. Since they were stomped in the playoff last year, Oklahoma’s defense is returning eight starters. Because of this, they’ll be much improved. Oklahoma vs. Texas in October will be one of the biggest games of the year.

6 days ago

What impact will Chad Morris have on the Auburn offense in 2020?

(Auburn Football/Twitter, YHN)

Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris’ relationship stretches back decades at this point. When Morris was hired, he told the story of badgering Malzahn for information on his innovative offensive style multiple times until finally wearing him down into sharing some secrets when they were high school coaches in Texas and Arkansas, respectively.

Those early interactions paved the way to a friendship between two men that would eventually walk many of the same roads from coaching in high school to the SEC.

When Morris was let go as Arkansas’ head coach in 2019, it did not take long for the two friends to decide to work together in 2020. In a normal offseason the biggest story for Auburn football would have been the hiring of Chad Morris as offensive coordinator. Clearly, 2020 has been nowhere near normal.

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Today, we take a deeper look at potential impacts the new hire could have on The Plains this season. Morris’ input in the following three areas could unlock the Auburn offense’s full potential this year.

Passing Game
Gus Malzahn-led teams rarely have real issues running the football. The Auburn Tigers have run the ball more frequently and effectively than most teams in the country during Malzahn’s tenure. The aspect of the offense that often struggles to find consistency has been the passing game.

While Chad Morris patterned his offensive style directly after Malzahn, in the past decade he has had more production throwing the ball than his current head coach. It appears that Chad Morris simply likes to throw the ball more than Malzahn. In the 10 seasons that Morris has been a college coach, his offenses have attempted at least 34 pass attempts a game nine times. Malzahn, on the other hand, has never had a season where his team attempted more than 30 passes per game.

Beyond a sheer disparity in volume, there is also a difference in the kind of passes that the offenses frequently attempt. Chad Morris was a much earlier adopter of the RPO (run-pass option) and also tends to have more passes target the middle of the field. Malzahn’s passing game has been primarily based around deep shots off play action or various screens that attack the perimeter quickly.

All of those passing schemes (and more) are effective when called cleverly and executed properly. It will likely be an indication of Morris’ involvement if the Tigers average somewhere near 35 pass attempts per game with more targets happening over the middle of the field this season.

Personnel
When referencing personnel, we are simply pointing out the grouping of players on the field and how they are deployed on a given play. Gus Malzahn tends to favor two backs (tailback and H-back) and three receivers. Chad Morris on the other hand, has deployed one tailback, one tight end and three receivers as his most common grouping.

The use of an H-back versus a tight end may seem small, but it can lead to pretty significant differences in the choices that opposing defenses make to counter an offense. Some tight ends and H-backs are interchangeable, which can be a strength if used creatively. However, most H-backs are primarily blockers (like an I-formation fullback), whereas tight ends are valuable targets over the middle of the field in the passing game and valuable blockers on the edge in the running attack.

For example, last season at Arkansas, TE Cheyene O’Grady accounted for 33 catches for 372 yards along with three touchdown receptions in only seven games played. By contrast, Auburn’s John Samuel Shenker and Harold Joiner combined for nine catches, 129 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games last season.

Chad Morris’ history of using the tight end along with a renewed focus on recruiting the tight end position my signal more use of that position going forward. Expect to see a continuation of the use of an H-back, but a dramatic uptick in the use of the tight end position could point to Chad Morris exerting his influence on the gameplan.

Pace
Auburn fans are likely familiar with the fact that Gus Malzahn literally wrote the book on the hurry up no huddle offense. Clearly, the use of pace was one of the key factors in Malzahn’s rise as coach, and it continues to be a weapon today.

However, last week when Chad Morris addressed the media, he seemed to indicate a slightly different take on how an offense’s pace of play should be used in today’s game. In Morris’ opinion, it is now less important to snap the ball as quickly as possible every play than it is to be able to change the speed of play effectively.

Morris conveyed that he hopes to use versatile players that are able to line up in different places and perform multiple skills so that when Auburn gains an advantage in matchups, the offense can then speed up to require the defense to remain on the field and at a disadvantage.

It will be interesting to see if a revamped passing game, new personnel groupings, varied pace or any other noticeable wrinkles, coincide with Chad Morris’ arrival on The Plains this fall.

Auburn’s offense must take the next step to being a consistently explosive group this year to contend for the SEC championship. If Morris can facilitate that production, then the Tigers will have a chance to make the 2020 season one that Auburn fans remember fondly for years to come.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

1 week ago

Auburn football names to know: New assistant coaches

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

Turnover is a big part of college football. Each season, a huge portion of every team leaves via graduation, transfer or for the NFL. However, changes that are often overlooked by fans happen on the coaching staff. It is big news if there is a head coaching change, but position coaches or coordinators moving on or coming in can get lost in the shuffle.

Continuity on a coaching staff allows more time to be spent on instruction, game-planning and recruiting instead of each member having to determine the best way to divvy up those responsibilities. Gus Malzahn has retained most of the men on the current staff for multiple years, and defensive line coach Rodney Garner and strength coach Ryan Russell have been on staff since 2013.

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Today, we look at three men who are entering their first season on the Auburn Tigers’ coaching staff. The ability of these newcomers to interface well with the other coaches and get the most out of their respective position groups will have a huge say in how successful the Tigers are this year.

Buck/OLB coach – Al Pogue
Previous coaching jobs – Off the field coach at Auburn from 2011-2013, defensive backs coach at Troy 2014-2018, outside linebacker coach at West Virginia in 2019
Coach Pogue is no stranger to Auburn University or the state of Alabama. Before making the jump to the college ranks as an off the field staffer at Auburn, Al Pogue was a successful high school head coach at both St. Jude and Carver High School in Montgomery. The connections and experience he developed in Alabama high school football led to assisting Coach Malzahn before earning his first on the field coaching job at Troy University.

Al Pogue has been a defensive coach since moving to the college game and has been in charge of multiple positions on that side of the ball. At Auburn, Pogue is tasked with coaching the buck position, which is primarily a stand-up linebacker on the line of scrimmage that has major pass rush responsibilities.

If Auburn is going to replace much of the pass rush production that has moved on to the NFL from last year, the buck position is most likely where that will happen. As strong as the interior defensive line play has been, the buck position has not exhibited the same consistency in the last couple of seasons. If Pogue can develop TD Moultry, Derick Hall or anyone else from that group into a force off the edge, then that could be the key to Auburn having an elite defense in 2020.

Offensive line coach – Jack Bicknell, Jr.
Previous coaching jobs – coaching since 1985, Offensive line coach in NFL coach for multiple teams from 2009-2015, Offensive line coach at Ole Miss from 2017-2019
Jack Bicknell arrives at Auburn as one of the most experienced coaches on the entire staff. The wealth of experience at the highest level of football and the recent work in the SEC have Bicknell primed to get the most out of a position group that will be very green in 2020.

The 2019 offensive line was pretty widely maligned as a group that was unable to get much push in the running game. That is never a good sign, but with Malzahn’s heavy focus on running the football, it was an even bigger issue. In 2020, Auburn will have new starters at four of the five positions, so Bicknell’s ability to develop multiple new guys to play at a high level is going to be critical.

For Auburn to have a great offense this season, Jack Bicknell, Jr. must put together five guys capable of protecting Bo Nix and opening lanes for the Tigers’ tailbacks consistently this fall.

Offensive coordinator – Chad Morris
Previous coaching jobs – Texas high school football coach until 2009, offensive coordinator at Tulsa in 2010, offensive coordinator at Clemson from 2011-2014, head coach at SMU from 2015-2017, head coach at Arkansas from 2018-2019
Chad Morris’ coaching trajectory had been completely ascendant until his stint with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Morris’ career path is strikingly similar to his friend, and now head coach, Gus Malzahn. Coach Morris moved from legendary high school coach to college offensive coordinator to eventually become a head coach in the SEC.

However, the lack of success in two seasons for the Razorbacks made Morris available in December 2019. The opportunity for Chad Morris to reset and for Gus Malzahn to revamp his offense with the coach that he trusts the most presents a unique opportunity. If there is someone who Malzahn may trust to fully give the reigns of the offense over to, Chad Morris is that guy.

Possibly the biggest strength on Morris’ resume is the ability to develop quarterbacks and design an effective passing attack. If Chad Morris can accomplish that in 2020 by getting the most out of Bo Nix and a talented group of skill position players, that could be the key to unlocking a special offensive season for Auburn.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

, and 2 weeks ago

College football power rankings — Week 2 edition

(College Football Playoff/Facebook)

The college football season officially kicked off for two of the three power conferences which have maintained their schedules. The first Saturday brought a few surprises and some of what was expected. In other words, it looked a lot like any other opening weekend on the field, even if appearing a little odd off of it.

We are just glad college football is back.

With SEC teams now less than two weeks away from beginning their march to the playoff, our panel of college football experts have cast their votes and the result is this week’s Yellowhammer Power Rankings.

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Paul Shashy

1. Alabama: Last year was unusual because the playoff did not include Alabama. This year will be different. Alabama is reloaded and ready to roll. Linebacker Dylan Moses returning is huge, and Alabama’s defense will be back to their standard. Mac Jones, Najee Harris, Brian Robinson, and Jalen Waddle will lead the offense.

2. Clemson: Clemson will have college football’s most explosive duo in running back Travis Etienne and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Clemson has the two best players in the ACC and one of the country’s easiest schedules; they’ll be in the playoff.

3. Texas A&M: Texas A&M brings back nearly everyone from last year. I believe this is the year Jimbo Fischer gets his shot. They go to Auburn and Alabama, which is rough, but I think they’ll win one of the two.

4. Notre Dame: Notre Dame is one of the more experienced teams in college football this year; that’s why they hold the number four spot. As usual, they have a much easier schedule than most other teams in my top 8. Notre Dame vs. Clemson in November will be one of the great games of the year.

5. Texas: Texas brings back much of their talent, and I think it’s time for Tom Herman to finally get Texas back to what they once were as a powerhouse in college football.

6. Auburn: Bo Nix is returning and should be much improved, especially considering the depth and speed he has at wide receiver. They should be a popular dark horse choice for the college football playoff.

7. Oklahoma: Since they were stomped in the playoff last year, Oklahoma’s defense is returning eight starters. Because of this, they’ll be much improved. Oklahoma vs. Texas in October will be one of the biggest games of the year.

8. Florida: Kyle Trask will be of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this year; therefore, Dan Mullen’s offense will be tough to stop. Once again, Florida-Georgia will define the SEC East.

Zack Shaw

1. Clemson: Clemson has the best quarterback and defensive coordinator in the country. They also have arguably the best head coach and running back. That is a good place to start for a great team.

2. Alabama: Year in and year out Nick Saban has an extremely talented team that is well coached. I expect nothing different in 2020.

3. Oklahoma: Lincoln Riley has become something of a quarterback whisperer. The Sooners always put up lots of points and this year looks like more of the same.

4. Texas: Veteran QB Sam Ehlinger threw five first half TDs against an overmatched opponent this weekend. The experience at quarterback and talent on defense give the Longhorns a chance to have a stellar season.

5. Georgia: Kirby Smart has stockpiled players in Athens. Developing a quarterback will determine the ceiling for the Bulldogs.

6. Florida: Dan Mullen has a proven track record of getting the most out of his QB. Kyle Trask and the Gators look to build on the 2019 campaign.

7. Auburn: A returning starter at quarterback, a perennial top 15 defense and a rumored to be revamped passing attack have the Tigers ready for 2020.

8. LSU: Honestly, this is just respect from 2019 and a lack of great performances this weekend. I have no idea what to expect from last year’s champs after the unbelievable attrition from last year’s squad.

Tim Howe

1. Alabama: Things are going to get weird this year, and no single coach in America will be better prepared than Nick Saban. Plus, the Crimson Tide have the most talented roster in the country.

2. Georgia: This ranking is predicated on the Bulldogs being the D’Wan Mathis version of the team. He may be the most intriguing quarterback in the SEC. Georgia’s defensive talent is filthy.

3. Texas A&M: During this disrupted season, you cannot discount the value in having a head coach and quarterback combo that has been together a while. Jimbo Fisher and Kellen Mond fit that bill.

4. Clemson: Dabo Swinney’s Tigers have big plans and big holes. But the flashy backfield seems to have everyone’s attention.

5. Florida: This is a Dan Mullen ranking as much as anything else. Quarterback Kyle Trask is…steady?

6. Texas: Every year either Notre Dame or Texas lures the college football world in. It’s Texas’s turn in 2020.

7. Auburn: Offensive coordinator and quarterback miracle-worker Chad Morris is the reason the Tigers may climb these rankings in coming weeks.

8. North Carolina: Playing a hunch here. Sam Howell was the most productive quarterback in the ACC last year.

2 weeks ago

Auburn football names to know: Quarterbacks

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

Quarterback is the most important position in team sports. To do the job well, the quarterback must know his assignment, make sure his 10 teammates on the field are lined up correctly, be aware of each offensive player’s task and have a good idea of what the defensive scheme is, too. Once all of that is accomplished, you actually have to snap the ball and execute the play that has been called.

Auburn returns its starting quarterback from 2019 but has a new quarterback coach and (apparent) play-caller in Chad Morris. Coach Morris will be tasked with enabling Bo Nix to take the leap from a serviceable SEC quarterback to a consistent difference-maker in his second season on The Plains. In addition to Nix, Auburn brought in transfers and high school players to bolster depth at the position.

Today, we look at the most productive returning player, a talented newcomer and a wildcard at the quarterback position. Due to the quarterback’s massive influence and impact on offensive success, the ability of Bo Nix to elevate his play and that of his teammates will be critical for Auburn to compete for the SEC championship.

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Most productive returning player – Bo Nix, 10, So.
Key 2019 stats – 2542 yards passing, 58% completion percentage, 16 TDs, 7 INTs and 313 yards rushing, 7 TDs
Bo Nix had more big moments in his true freshman campaign than many players will have in their entire career. From his last-minute game-winning touchdown pass in the season opener against Oregon to the back-shoulder dime to Sal Cannella in the Iron Bowl, Nix proved he could deliver in the biggest of moments. Now, there were games between Oregon and Alabama where Nix was far from stellar, but his performance in 2019 earned him SEC Freshman of the Year honors from the conference’s coaches.

In 2020, the Auburn Tigers will lean on Nix even more heavily as the offense lost four starting offensive lineman and the team’s leading rusher along with the defense having four players drafted by the NFL. Having already played one season against the toughest competition that doesn’t kick off on Sundays, the Auburn quarterback must draw from that experience to navigate the upcoming unprecedented 10-game conference-only schedule successfully.

For Nix to move from SEC Freshman of the Year to SEC Player of the Year, he must find ways to complete a higher percentage of his passes, connect more frequently on deep passing attempts, and resolve to stay in the pocket longer before attempting to escape pressure. Expect Nix to improve in those areas and more simply from the experience of last year and the benefit of another year’s worth of working on his game. If Bo Nix can be a little more consistent with his throws and Chad Morris can scheme some easy completions each game, then Nix could be primed for a breakout season in 2020.

Talented newcomer – Chayil Garnett, 15, Fr.
Key 2019 stats – 2028 yards passing, 18 TDs as a junior, was only able to play in 8 games as a senior
Chayil Garnett is another member of the Tigers’ 2020 signing class that enrolled at Auburn in January. Even though the semester was cut short and there was no spring practice, the fact that Garnett was able to train at Auburn for a couple of extra months will pay dividends down the road. Another reason it was beneficial for Chayil to enroll early is that he missed several games of his senior season in high school due to injury. So, the ability to get more football-specific workouts and training from college coaches could only benefit his development.

Since Bo Nix is the returning starter and there are a couple of other older players in the quarterback position group, Garnett is not expected to be a major contributor this season. However, this is a great opportunity for Chayil to learn from accomplished coaches like Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris and to study the habits of experienced players like Bo Nix. If Garnett can do that this season, he will have a strong foundation built for when his number is called in the future.

Wildcard – Grant Loy, 14, Sr.
Key 2019 stats – 1137 passing yards, 6 TDs and 427 rushing yards, 4 TDs
Grant Loy is a graduate transfer from Bowling Green. Loy was the starter for the Falcons in 2019 and upon earning his undergraduate degree, took the opportunity to play quarterback at Auburn. Loy is a big, athletic player who served as a dual-threat quarterback in the MAC last season.

At Auburn, Loy is expected to be the back up to Bo Nix. Due to his size, it is at least possible that there could be some specific packages game-planned for Loy. Even if that is not the case, it is important for Loy to stay focused on learning the new offense and improving his skill set because of potential injury and the uncertainty of COVID-19 this season.

For other Auburn positional breakdowns:

Auburn football names to know: Offensive line

Auburn football names to know: Running backs

Auburn football names to know: Special teams

Auburn football names to know: Defensive backs

Auburn football names to know: Linebackers

Auburn football names to know: Defensive line

Auburn football names to know: Receivers, tight ends

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

2 weeks ago

Auburn football names to know: Receivers, tight ends

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

Last season, Auburn attempted more passes than any season in over a decade. The high volume of pass attempts was somewhat surprising since head coach Gus Malzahn had a true freshman starter at quarterback. The Tigers are now likely to throw even more in 2020 now that returning starter Bo Nix has a year of experience under his belt. That means that the Auburn receivers and tight ends should have many chances to showcase their skills this fall.

This season, the Tigers return their three leading pass catchers from 2019 in Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove. These productive returning players, along with some exciting newcomers, should give first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris some great options to target in the passing game.

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Today, we look at the most productive returning player, a talented newcomer and a wildcard from among the receivers and tight ends. The number of big plays these athletes deliver will help determine how explosive the Auburn offense can be in 2020.

Most productive returning player – Seth Williams, 18, Jr.
Key 2019 stats – 59 receptions, 830 yards, 8 TDs
Seth Williams has a chance to be the highest drafted Auburn receiver since the turn of the century. Williams has great size for his position and excels at making contested catches in tight coverage. He has shown the ability to produce against SEC competition since his true freshman season in 2018.

Last year, he scored the go-ahead touchdown reception in the waning seconds against Oregon to kick off the season and was Bo Nix’s favorite target for the rest of the year. Williams missed a little bit of action in 2019 due to an injury, but he was the focal point of the offense when on the field.

In 2020, Williams could be the biggest beneficiary of Chad Morris’ rumored re-vamped passing attack. Potential changes in the passing game combined with Williams trimming a few pounds to become more of a down the field threat could work together to produce a monster season for Williams. If Seth Williams has improved his speed even slightly and Coach Morris can bring some creative concepts to get Williams some easy catches, then expect an All-SEC campaign this year.

Talented newcomer – Brandon Frazier, 87, Fr.
Key 2019 stats- Texas HS district champion- 40 receptions, 879 yards, 7 TDs
Brandon Frazier was one of the first recruiting targets that Chad Morris pursued once named offensive coordinator in December. Frazier might stand out to Auburn fans for a few reasons. First of all, he is really big — listed at 6-7 and 270 lbs. Second, Frazier is from Texas, which is not one of Auburn’s traditional recruiting areas. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, Brandon Frazier plays tight end.

Many Auburn fans have lamented the lack of a tight end being used in Gus Malzahn’s offensive attack. Chad Morris’ arrival on The Plains may point to a change of philosophy in personnel usage going forward. Morris’ history and early reports from fall camp seem to indicate that the tight end position will have a greater impact in this year’s offense.

If that is the case, Brandon Frazier is likely to have a role in the offense even as a true freshman. Frazier is a big athlete that played with a mean streak in high school. His size and catching ability can make him a match-up problem for opposing defenses right away. If Frazier can learn the offense quickly and be an effective blocker, expect to see the freshman play an important part for the offense this fall.

Wildcard – Anthony Schwartz, 1, Jr. 
Key 2019 stats – 41 receptions, 440 yards, 1 TD and 11 carries, 118 yards, 2 TDs
Most people who have watched an Auburn game on television the last couple of years probably know that Anthony Schwartz is extremely fast. Broadcast teams mention Schwartz’s world-class speed and sprinting career on a regular basis. In his two seasons playing for the Tigers, Schwartz has shown flashes of that game-breaking speed in several games. He has scored on reverses, speed sweeps, deep routes and even turning a short reception into a long touchdown by running away from defenders.

Schwartz has been an effective weapon, but it seems like there is another level that Schwartz can rise to in order to reach his full potential. Last season, Anthony battled several injuries which caused him to miss a number of games, and appeared to get somewhat pigeon-holed to specific responsibilities in the offense when on the field.

Schwartz is healthy this pre-season and looks to be someone who could benefit from some tweaks to the passing game in 2020. If Schwartz can just remain healthy, expect to see the man his teammates call “Flash” deliver explosive plays this fall.

For other Auburn positional breakdowns:

Auburn football names to know: Offensive line

Auburn football names to know: Running backs

Auburn football names to know: Special teams

Auburn football names to know: Defensive backs

Auburn football names to know: Linebackers

Auburn football names to know: Defensive line

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

3 weeks ago

Auburn football names to know: Running backs

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

Some of the greatest and most iconic players in Auburn history have been running backs. Under Gus Malzahn, running backs have been vital because of his strong preference to run the football. Once JaTarvious “Boobie” Whitlow, the team’s leading rusher the past two seasons, decided to transfer this offseason, it opened a competition for a new starter at the position.

Running backs coach Cadillac Williams has done a nice job of assembling a group of backs that are all talented but vary in primary skill sets. The variance in players’ size, speed and experience makes it difficult to predict who will be the main ball carriers this season.

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Today, we look at the most productive returning player, a talented newcomer, and a wildcard at the running back position. The production of these players will have a huge impact on Auburn’s success in 2020.

Most productive returning player – D.J. Williams, 3, So.
Key 2019 stats – 84 carries, 400 yards rushing, 2 TDs
D.J. Williams played a key role as the backup tailback for Auburn in 2019 as a true freshman. He finished last season second in rushing yards and third in carries for the Tigers. Throughout the season, Williams proved to be capable of breaking tackles, protecting the football and gaining tough yards.

His biggest moment of the year was a 70-yard breakaway run against LSU. His greatest involvement was 24 carries in a win against Ole Miss. Williams was able to provide important depth at tailback throughout 2019, but will likely have to take a step forward to be the feature back in 2020.

Williams showed good consistency last year but didn’t flash quite as much big-play ability last season as star tailbacks in the SEC display. If D.J. Williams was able to use the offseason to become just a half-step faster with a little more burst, he may become the workhorse of the Auburn backfield this year.

Talented newcomer – Tank Bigsby, 4, Fr.
Key 2019 stats- Under Armour All-American, 1636 yards rushing, 27 TDs
Tank Bigsby is the most highly heralded running back Auburn has signed since Michael Dyer. The true freshman from LaGrange, GA, enrolled at Auburn in January with the hopes of making an impact right away in 2020. With the unexpected departure of Boobie Whitlow, there are a lot of carries now available that Bigsby hopes to take.

What stands out about Bigsby is that he has the size to run between the tackles and the speed to run away from most defenders. He played in a smaller division of Georgia high school football, but the vision, decisiveness and acceleration he displayed are likely to translate to success in college. Another strength of his game is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. If that is something that Chad Morris wants to do more of this year, that could be an additional way for Bigsby to make plays.

There is no doubt that Bigsby will be in contention for carries this year, but he will have to prove his ability to protect the ball, pass block and other small things that often get overlooked in order to be the starter as a freshman. If Bigsby can master the small details of the position quickly, it may be a few years before Auburn has anyone else start at running back.

Wildcard – Mark-Antony Richards, 21, RFr.
Key 2019 stats- N/A, redshirt due to injury
Mark-Antony Richards arrived on the Plains from Wellington, FL, with rave reviews from recruiting analysts and even the Auburn head coach himself. When Richards signed with Auburn in 2019, Malzahn compared him to Kerryon Johnson … except a little bigger. If that is what Richards turns out to be, then Auburn fans should be excited.

Richards was forced to redshirt last season because of injuries but has been one of the most talked-about athletes by other players on the team this pre-season. His long, lean build and fluid athleticism is what draws the comparison to former All-SEC performer Kerryon Johnson. Another similarity between the two is the ability to catch the football much better than an average running back.

As long as Richards has fully recovered from his injuries, then there is no doubt he will factor into the plans for the Auburn backfield in 2020. If Richards can stay healthy and translate his performance from the practice field to the game field, then expect to see a new game-changer for the Tigers this season.

For other Auburn positional breakdowns:

Auburn football names to know: Offensive line

Auburn football names to know: Special teams

Auburn football names to know: Defensive backs

Auburn football names to know: Linebackers

Auburn football names to know: Defensive line

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

3 weeks ago

Auburn football names to know: Offensive line

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

There may not be any position group on the football field where continuity means more than on the offensive line. The five individual linemen must operate as one unit to be successful. That is obviously a tall task that requires a lot of work and coordination.

New Auburn offensive line coach Jack Bicknell will have to earn his paycheck this season for a couple of reasons. First, there are talented players in the offensive line position group, but the Tigers must replace five seniors from last year’s squad. Also, there were no spring practices in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Auburn has missed multiple practices already in fall camp due to COVID-19 cases. Coach Bicknell’s group has a long way to go and a short time to get there.

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Today, we look at the most productive returning player, a talented newcomer and a wildcard from the offensive line position group. The ability of this group to gel as a cohesive unit will factor heavily into Auburn’s offensive success this season.

Most productive returning player – Nick Brahms, 52, Jr.
Key 2019 stats – 5 starts at center
Nick Brahms has far and away the most playing experience at Auburn of any offensive lineman. He redshirted his freshman year, but started in five games in each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons. As a redshirt freshman, Brahms was unable to hold on to the starting job he earned in 2018. However, last season he moved into the starting line up in the Ole Miss game and held that role for the remainder of the year.

Although he is not one of the biggest offensive linemen, he may be one of the smartest as he has been named to the SEC All-Academic team in each of his three years at Auburn. At his size, Brahms must use his intelligence to play decisively and with great leverage and quickness. Auburn is counting on Brahms as a fourth-year player and the lone returning starter to anchor the offensive line and lead that position group.

Talented Newcomer – Brandon Council, 71, Jr.
Key 2019 stats – Played in 12 games for Akron at four different positions
Brandon Council checks two big boxes for Auburn- experience and versatility. The graduate transfer from Akron played in 24 games for Akron over the last three seasons. In those campaigns, he started for the Zips at four of the five offensive line positions at one point or another.

For a position group that will be searching for a way to get the five best players on the field at once, it is likely that Council’s ability to play multiple spots will give him a leg up in the competition. Similarly, he has started many more college games than anyone else in the Auburn offensive line group. Clearly, playing for Akron does not provide the same level of weekly competition as the SEC, but the experience of being counted on week in and week out as a key player can only help Council.

It will probably be a challenge for Council to pick up this new offense without the benefit of spring training. But, if Brandon can adapt to his new surrounding quickly and effectively, there is a great chance he could be one of the starting offensive linemen in Week 1.

Wildcard – Brodarious Hamm, 59, Jr.
Key 2019 stats – Played in 11 games
If you could only pick one player to pull for in 2020, Brodarious Hamm should be the one. This mountain of a man has a ton of potential, but his ability to persevere and endure is what makes him special. It is definitely hard to wait your turn to get playing time, but that is nothing compared to what Hamm has overcome in his life.

As a senior in high school, Hamm was diagnosed with cancer (as was fellow offensive lineman Tashawn Manning). He took a year away from football to undergo treatments in 2016 before being cleared to play in 2017. Hamm redshirted in 2017 and has been a reserve player for the last two campaigns. Early in 2020, Brodarious and his wife Kayla were struck with true tragedy as their first child, a son named Karter, shockingly passed away.

A short time later, as COVID-19 arrived in the United States, Hamm was forced to consider if he felt comfortable playing football with the knowledge that people with underlying or previous health conditions are likely at higher risk of adverse effects from the virus.

Through all of this, Brodarious is now likely to start at either guard or tackle for Auburn in 2020. Hamm is one of the most physically imposing Tigers and is already considered to be very strong as a run blocker. If he can hold up well in pass protection, then Hamm could be a critical piece to a new-look offensive line this season.

For other Auburn positional breakdowns:

Auburn football names to know: Running backs

Auburn football names to know: Special teams

Auburn football names to know: Defensive backs

Auburn football names to know: Linebackers

Auburn football names to know: Defensive line

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

4 weeks ago

Auburn football names to know: Special teams

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

Punt Bama Punt, The Kick Six and whatever you call Gus Malzahn lining up a punter in the offensive formation to bait Alabama into an illegal participation penalty that iced the game in 2019 are all examples of special teams having huge impacts in big games. This often-overlooked phase of football reliably delivers moments of outsized importance. Few things swing the momentum of a game like a kick return for a touchdown, a blocked punt or a recovered onside kick.

Quality special teams play is critical for a team to have sustained success across a season. In 2020, Auburn returns several familiar faces and has brought in new names from around the world to bolster this vital unit.

Today we look at the most productive returning player, a talented newcomer, and a wildcard from the special teams. The contributions of these will play an important part in Auburn’s success for the 2020 campaign.

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Most Productive Returning Player – Anders Carlson, 26, Jr.
Key 2019 Stats – 18/25 Field Goals, 48/49 PATs, longest made field goal- 52 yds

Anders Carlson continues the line of strong-legged kickers on the Plains. He also continues the tradition of Carlsons kicking for the Tigers. To this point in Anders’ career, he has been unable to replicate the success that his brother Daniel had as an Auburn Tiger. In fairness to Anders, that is going to be difficult because Daniel Carlson is one of the best kickers in program history.

The younger Carlson is absolutely talented in his own right and has already shined in some big moments. However, Anders has had one of the lower field goal percentages in the SEC in both of his seasons as Auburn’s starting kicker. Like every other kicker, Carlson has missed a few. But unlike many other kickers around college football, he has converted multiple attempts beyond 50 yards and had a clutch 4/4 performance against Alabama in the 2019 Iron Bowl.

Carlson did improve from his freshman to sophomore season and there’s no reason to doubt that trend will continue into his junior campaign. There will definitely be spots in 2020 where the Tigers will need Anders Carlson to come up big, and if he does, then that will greatly improve Auburn’s probability of a championship-level season.

Talented Newcomer – Oscar Chapman, Fr.
Key 2019 stats – N/A

Auburn has once again looked to Australia to fill the punter position on the roster. Last season’s punter, Arryn Siposs, left Auburn early to pursue the NFL. Siposs’ departure left Auburn with a vacancy that was not readily able to be filled. So, the Tigers found another athlete from the ProKick Australia Program to continent hop his way to the SEC.

Oscar Chapman made it to Auburn in the middle of August, so he still must get acclimated to a new place and a new game. There are noticeably no 2019 season stats for Oscar because the next time he punts, kicks or tackles in a football game will be the first time he does any of those things in pads. There really is no way to know exactly what the Tigers are getting with Chapman, but based on his performance at ProKick, the coaching staff felt like he could make the special teams a better unit this season.

Wildcard – Aidan Marshall, 41, Jr.
Key 2019 Stats – N/A

Aidan Marshall has been Auburn’s starting punter before. In 2017, he took over the starting job in the fifth game of the season. He held that position for the remainder of the year and was the starting punter for the 2018 season opener. However, in September of the 2018 season, Marshall left the team. He remained a student at Auburn and has now returned to the football program after being away for most of 2018 and all of 2019.

When Siposs left the program with a year of eligibility remaining, that left an opening for someone to punt for Auburn in 2020. Aidan Marshall has done that job before and clearly saw an opportunity to win the punter’s position again. Marshall had some good moments as a punter earlier in his career, including SEC Freshman of the Week for special teams against Texas A&M in 2017. Due to Marshall’s experience, he could prove to be very valuable to Auburn’s special teams this season even if he turns out to be a reserve player.

For other Auburn positional breakdowns:

Auburn football names to know: Offensive line

Auburn football names to know: Running backs

Auburn football names to know: Defensive backs

Auburn football names to know: Linebackers

Auburn football names to know: Defensive line

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

4 weeks ago

Auburn football names to know: Defensive backs

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

Today’s offenses throw the football with greater efficiency and volume than at any point in the history of the game. In turn, having a quality secondary has never been more important to a team’s success. A modern defense that hopes to compete with high octane offenses requires play-making defensive backs … and lots of them.

Auburn must replace four of the top players from last year’s secondary, including first round draft pick Noah Igbinoghene. Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele and defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff will look to returning starters Christian Tutt and Roger McCreary to lead the last line of the Tiger’s defense in 2020.

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Today, we look at the most productive returning player, a talented newcomer and a wildcard from the defensive back position group. Auburn is counting on these players to do their part in continuing the tradition of strong Tiger defenses.

Most Productive Returning Player – Roger McCreary, 23, Jr.
Key 2019 Stats – 36 tackles, 1.0 TFL, I INT, 1 Fumble Recovery, 11 Pass break ups
Roger McCreary was not one of the more highly heralded prospects in his signing class, so the Mobile, AL native was one of the last additions to the Tigers recruiting class in 2018. But he appeared in seven games, mostly on special teams, as a true freshman.

Last season, he burst on to the scene in his first career start against the juggernaut LSU offense. In that game, he made a team-leading 10 tackles and intercepted eventual Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. Although Auburn came up short that day, McCreary proved that he was ready to lock down the cornerback spot opposite of Noah Igbinoghene.

With Igbinoghene now departed for the NFL, McCreary figures to be the next in line for the Tigers’ number one corner this season. What stands out about McCreary is his strength and toughness. His 40-yard dash time is unclear (though he is clearly a very good athlete), but there are very few receivers who will look forward to having McCreary beat them up all day. McCreary will need to neutralize opposing offenses’ primary receiving options for the Tigers to be a dominant defense this year.

Talented Newcomer – Ladarius Tennison, 13, Fr.
Key 2019 Stats – Under Armour All-American, 98 tackles, 24.0 TFL
Although Ladarius Tennison only stands about 5-10, his impact was among the biggest in Florida high school football last season. The dynamo from Rockledge, FL, returned kicks, played running back and lined up all over his team’s defense in 2019. Tennison is another member of the 2020 signing class that graduated high school early and enrolled in classes at Auburn in January.

Auburn must replace two starters at safety and needs someone to play in the rotation at nickel cornerback with Christian Tutt. Since Ladarius likely projects as a nickel/slot corner or safety for the Tigers defense moving forward, he may have opportunities to see the field at multiple positions. Players as explosive as Tennison are often game changers, and he is one to watch as a valuable contributor for Auburn even as a true freshman.

Wildcard – Smoke Monday, 21, Jr.
Key 2019 Stats – 20 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT
Smoke Monday has been a key back up in his first two seasons at Auburn. Although he was a reserve, Monday managed to accrue multiple sacks, interceptions, tackles for loss and even a blocked kick on special teams. In the 2019 Iron Bowl, Monday had 4 tackles, 1 sack and returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown. The Auburn defense graduated two senior safeties last season, so the Tigers will likely look to Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood to fill those roles in 2020.

Smoke has made big plays and delivered big hits from the moment he stepped on the field as a true freshman. However, Monday had several missed tackles and struggled at times with tracking receivers on vertical routes last season. Monday must eliminate some of the mental mistakes that are often made by younger players to reach his full potential.

If Smoke Monday can minimize errors, then all that will be left are the highlight plays that he has already proven capable of making. Expect Monday to play with more consistency as a junior and help solidify the back end of Auburn’s defense in 2020.

For other Auburn positional breakdowns:

Auburn football names to know: Offensive line

Auburn football names to know: Running backs

Auburn football names to know: Special teams

Auburn football names to know: Linebackers

Auburn football names to know: Defensive line

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

1 month ago

Auburn football names to know: Linebackers

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

A pretty reliable predictor of success for a college football team is a combination of talent and experience. Really, any organization, business or team would love to have “talented and experienced” be an accurate description of their personnel. The linebacker room that the Auburn coaching staff has put together in 2020 fits that profile.

Linebackers’ coach Travis Williams brings back K.J. Britt, Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain as proven players and signed two highly touted freshmen to add to the mix.

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Today, we look at the most productive returning player, a talented newcomer and a wildcard in the linebacker position group. If the following players’ seasons meet expectations, Auburn may have the best linebacker unit in college football.

Most Productive Returning Player – K.J. Britt, 33, Sr.
Key 2019 Stats – 69 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 Forced Fumble
K.J. Britt earned a nickname at Auburn before he earned a starting job. Coach Travis Williams began calling a young linebacker from Oxford, AL “Downhill Britt” in 2017. It is usually evident on the first drive of the game why Mr. Britt has been given that moniker. Britt is a classic example of someone who arrives on the scene with the intention to run through the ball carrier.

K.J. waited his turn behind Auburn captain Deshaun Davis for two seasons. Last year when he was called on to start at linebacker, K.J. earned first-team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press. Britt had the opportunity to leave school early and pursue a career in the NFL, but he chose to return for his final season.

The leadership, effort and tenacity that Britt displays helps set the tone for Auburn on the defensive side of the ball. If Britt can clean up a few missed tackles and improve in pass coverage, he is likely to have an amazing season for the Tigers and set himself up to hear his name called early in the next NFL draft. Expect him to do just that in 2020.

Talented Newcomer – Wesley Steiner, 32, Fr.
Key 2019 Stats – Under Armour All-American, 93 tackles, 6.0 TFL
Auburn has a strong claim to the top linebacking corps in the SEC. If Chandler Wooten had not opted out of the upcoming season, it would be difficult to argue otherwise. But, with Wooten stepping away for the season, there are now critical snaps that must be taken by someone else.

That is where the uber-athletic Wesley Steiner could step into the spotlight. The freshman from Warner Robins, GA, has legitimate 4.5 speed and a 40-inch vertical leap. That kind of athleticism should allow Steiner to close on a running back between the tackles or run down a receiver from the slot to the sideline.

At the very least, Steiner should be an impact player on special teams. If the true freshman can grasp the defensive concepts quickly, his name could be at the top of the list to get into the rotation with K.J. Britt, Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain.

Wildcard – Zakoby McClain, 9, Jr.
Key 2019 stats – 55 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles, 1 INT
Zakoby McClain really needs no introduction. He led Auburn with 11 tackles in last season’s Iron Bowl. Oh, and you may also remember him in that same contest sprinting 100 yards to return an interception for a touchdown after a pass in the endzone ricocheted off Alabama’s Najee Harris.

McClain was not the usual starter next to K.J. Britt in 2019 because true freshman wunderkind Owen Pappoe earned that spot. However, McClain actually ended the season with more tackles than Pappoe. It truly is a testament to the depth of this position group that a player of McClain’s caliber is not on the field every important snap.

McClain’s role is likely to increase even more this year since Chandler Wooten will not be participating in the 2020 campaign. Zakoby is not as large as most linebackers, so some gameplans may not feature him as frequently if the opponent’s attack is particularly focused on a bruising running game. But his dynamic athleticism and big-hitting style make him one of the most exciting players on the Tigers’ defense.

For other Auburn positional breakdowns:

Auburn football names to know: Offensive line

Auburn football names to know: Running backs

Auburn football names to know: Special teams

Auburn football names to know: Defensive backs

Auburn football names to know: Defensive line

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

1 month ago

Auburn football names to know: Defensive line

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

Last season, the Auburn Tigers’ defense gave the team a chance to win every game they played. The 2019 defense was not consistently dominant as a unit, but the defensive line boasted multiple All-SEC players who wreaked havoc in opposing backfields.

Now that the unit’s 2019 standouts Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson have moved on to the NFL, the Tigers must produce the next wave of defensive difference makers on the line of scrimmage for Auburn to excel in 2020. If there is anyone who deserves Auburn fans’ trust to do just that, it is the man who has had over 30 of his players drafted into the NFL. That man is coach Rodney Garner.

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Today, we take a look at the most productive returning player, a talented newcomer and a wildcard in the defensive line position group. The contributions of these individuals will go a long way in determining if the 2020 defensive line can be a force to be reckoned with in the SEC.

Most productive returning player – Tyrone Truesdell, 94, Sr.
Key 2019 stats – 31 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 Fumble Recovery

Tyrone Truesdell returns for his senior season as the Auburn Tigers’ most experienced and accomplished defensive lineman. Truesdell was a substitute his first two seasons on the plains. As a junior, he became a starter last season and helped anchor Auburn’s defense.

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner will be looking for this talented senior to take another step forward this year and build on what was an impressive junior season.

Truesdell is built like a prototypical interior run stopper. He has definitely shown that ability in his first three campaigns, but Truesdell was also third on Auburn’s team in sacks last season, trailing only Davidson and Brown.

If Truesdell can continue to be stout against the run and increase his impact as an interior pass rusher, then his efforts could result in being one of the better defensive tackles in the conference.

Talented newcomer – Zykeivous Walker, 3, Fr.
Key 2019 stats – GSWA All-State Selection in Georgia, 85 tackles, 29.0 TFL, 11.0 sacks

The tradition of talented defensive lineman wearing single digits at Auburn continues in 2020. The true freshman from Ellaville, GA, enrolled at Auburn in January so he could get an early start on college classes and workouts. Considering the uncertainty that arrived in mid-March, those couple of months getting familiar with Auburn’s playbook, work out plans and coaching expectations are likely to pay dividends in the fall.

It is pretty rare for true freshmen to be contributors on the defensive line in the SEC. However, the previous defensive number 3 (Marlon Davidson) started every game in his four years at Auburn in which he was not sidelined with injury.

With Davidson now on the Atlanta Falcons roster, there is an opportunity for someone like this gifted freshman to step in and make plays for the Tigers’ defense. Walker will have much to learn, but his strength could allow him to be an effective player especially against the run in his first college season.

Wildcard – Derick Hall, 29, So.
Key 2019 stats – 13 tackles, 1.5 TFL

Yes, Derick Hall plays the Buck position for the Auburn defense. In Auburn’s scheme, the Buck position is technically linebacker and coached by new Auburn assistant Al Pogue.

However, similar to a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker, Hall and his fellow Bucks can almost always be found on the line of scrimmage (in a two-point stance on the outside shoulder of the tackle or tight end). Since that is the case, Derick Hall is included in the defensive line grouping.

Last season, Hall contributed as a true freshman on a defense that was extremely effective and very talented. Even though the numbers from 2019 are not eye-popping, he definitely looked the part as a first-year player.

The explosiveness and effort were evident early in the year, and he eventually earned his first career start against Ole Miss. The speed Hall provided off the edge had the potential to change games last season. No one else on Auburn’s roster has Hall’s combination of size, acceleration and length.

In 2020, expect Hall to refine his pass rush techniques and strategies and turn his potential into consistent production. It would be surprising if Derick Hall is not one of the most improved players on Auburn’s entire roster for the 2020 season.

For other Auburn positional breakdowns:

Auburn football names to know: Offensive line

Auburn football names to know: Running backs

Auburn football names to know: Special teams

Auburn football names to know: Defensive backs

Auburn football names to know: Linebackers

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com

1 month ago

Auburn football: A closer look at the 2020 schedule

(@AuburnFootball/Twitter)

It has been apparent for months that college football would not be spared the strangeness and uncertainty of 2020.

Earlier this year, colleges and universities from coast to coast cancelled spring football and sent their athletes home due to COVID-19. As spring turned to summer, players returned to campus with stringent restrictions and protocols developed by medical professionals.

The month of July brought about announcements from each of the Power Five conferences that their 2020 football schedules would be changed. In the SEC, that meant eliminating all non-conference games and adding two more SEC opponents. The end result of that process is a 10-game, conference-only SEC schedule that was announced on Monday.

There are a few things worth noting about Auburn University’s football schedule in 2020:

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9/26- Kentucky @ Auburn 
10/3- Auburn @ Georgia 
10/10- Arkansas @ Auburn
10/17- Auburn @ South Carolina 
10/24- Auburn @ Ole Miss 
10/31- LSU @ Auburn 
11/7- BYE
11/14- Auburn @ Mississippi St
11/21-Tennessee @ Auburn 
11/28- Auburn @ Alabama 
12/5- Texas A&M @ Auburn 

The Iron Bowl is moving… kind of

Auburn will once again play Alabama on the Saturday following Thanksgiving like we have come to expect. However, for the first time since 2001, the Iron Bowl will not be the last game on Auburn’s regular season schedule. Due to the schedule shake up, the regular season will extend to the first week in December.

In light of that change, it appears that the SEC decision makers determined it was more important for the biggest game on the Auburn football schedule to be played on its traditional date than to be the final game of the season. No matter when or where the Tigers and Tide play, it is always a must-see event. Like everything else in 2020, this year it is just going to be a little bit different.

An early season trip to Athens

For the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will kickoff before the month of November. In this case, the match-up takes place in only the second week of the season. The Tigers will have to be ready to play at a high level early in the season in order to beat the Bulldogs, who will almost surely be favored in the game.

But maybe this is the change that was needed in the Auburn football schedule. I have a hard time believing playing in Athens early in the season will produce any worse results than the recent contests in November. Auburn has lost the last six games played at Georgia, with the most recent victory coming in 2005.

In Gus Malzahn’s tenure as Auburn head coach, Athens has been especially rough, as the Tigers have only scored a total of 27 points in three trips to Sanford Stadium. Auburn definitely has to find some answers to solve the recent Georgia problem, and maybe seeing the Bulldogs early in the schedule is one way to do that.

No rest for the weary

This season is going to be a gauntlet for everyone in the SEC. The schedule no longer includes a couple of directional schools receiving a million dollar pay day in exchange for enduring a beatdown. Normally those games against lesser teams are used to break in new coaches, adjust personnel and shore up any glaring weaknesses.

In 2020, the Auburn football schedule opens by hosting the Kentucky Wildcats, who won eight games last year with a wide receiver playing quarterback. Hopefully Auburn has a lot of the kinks worked out because a road trip to Georgia awaits next. Since the schedule is SEC-only, one can look at every week and see the problems caused by each opponent. I guess that is the occupational hazard of playing in the conference where “it just means more.”

But Auburn should be well prepared for a constant barrage of difficult matchups since they play one of the toughest slate of games in the country year-in and year-out. There is one more thing consider about the schedule: I don’t think there are many teams in the SEC that enjoyed seeing the boys in Orange and Blue on their own schedules once they were unveiled. Every opponent knows that a game against Auburn means they are in for a fight.

Let’s keep the increased number of SEC games

There is no way to know what the future holds, but I really hope that the SEC keeps at least a nine-game conference schedule once things “go back to normal” after this season. It was genuinely exciting to see at least one quality matchup every week in the conference.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com