AUBURN, Alabama — Every spring there’s a surprise or two at Auburn.
Whether it’s an unexpected rise or fall, or the emergence of a walk-on no one has heard of before.
This spring we got a mix of both at Auburn. This is SEC Country’s three surprising players from Auburn’s spring practice:
Marlon Davidson, defensive end
The biggest surprise of all, the freshman defensive end saw an opening and bust through it as one of the most impressive players of the spring. Junior college transfer Paul James III injured his foot and missed the majority of spring practice, enabling Davidson to step in and fill his shoes. Coaches were impressed with Davidson’s response and teammates called him one of the most impressive freshmen they’ve ever seen.
“I’ve been here five years, and as far as freshmen coming in to play — especially in the spring — he’s as good as I’ve seen,” Auburn offensive guard Alex Kozan said. “Marlon Davidson has really impressed me. He’s got to keep working, keep improving, but he’s solid. I think he’s ready to play now.”
Projection: He will either start opposite of Carl Lawson at defensive end or be in the two-deep. Either way, he will play as a true freshman.
C.J. Tolbert, running back
The walk-on running back — he played quarterback at nearby Dadeville (Alabama) High — wasn’t expected to get much work this spring, but an injury to Kerryon Johnson and the departure of Peyton Barber to the NFL Draft made room for him in the backfield. Even as fullbacks Kamryn Pettway and Chandler Cox carved into the carries, Tolbert got his fair share and even saw some second-team work this spring. He was impressive in the spring game, especially catching the ball on wheel routes. He caught two passes for 42 yards, including a long of 22 yards.
Projection: He could be a valuable playmaker on special teams, which could lead to playing time on offense later in his career.
Xavier Dampeer, center
Not many expected the career backup to make the move to starter. After all, Austin Golson is still on the team after starting every game last season, but first-year offensive line coach Herb Hand saw the potential for movement in the trenches and slid Golson to the left two spots to play tackle. The Tigers’ lack of depth at tackle, and Golson’s familiarity playing tackle at Ole Miss, should lead to Dampeer sticking as the Tigers’ starter at center, a first for the senior. He didn’t have any noticeably bad snaps in the spring game (the one fumble by quarterback Sean White on a shotgun snap was his fault).
Projection: Dampeer starts next season and Golson stays at left tackle.