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