Over the next few weeks, SEC Country will take Auburn football fans to Summer School. Each session will focus on one position on Auburn’s 2018 roster, finding answers from spring practice and looking ahead to what might be the biggest questions for the fall.
Let’s open the week by wrapping up the offense. Here’s a look at the H-backs.
- Chandler Cox (senior)
- John Samuel Shenker (redshirt freshman)
- Spencer Nigh (junior)
Answers from spring practice
What is Chandler Cox working on for 2018?
Cox’s experience has no equal on offense. Even though his position doesn’t lend itself to statistical excellence, he is a vocal leader and has strong chemistry with quarterback Jarrett Stidham — his roommate — and the Tigers’ developing offensive line. This spring, he made it clear what he wanted to improve for his senior season.
“Leadership is a big role for me,” Cox said. “It’s more technique for me, and more taking that next level. Because last year, [H-backs and tight ends coach Larry Porter] was really helping me take that next step from my sophomore year and freshman year. This is my last year, and I’m just going to give everything I can to this program, to Coach Porter, to Coach [Gus] Malzahn. So I’m just trying to enjoy each day at a time and trying to focus on the little things this year.”
Is John Samuel Shenker ready to be the Tigers’ next top H-back?
With Cox returning for his fourth season as Auburn’s starting H-back, the main intrigue at the position in terms of the depth chart can be found in the backups. The Tigers will need a replacement in 2019. While they already have two tight ends committed for the Class of 2019, they don’t have a true H-back.
That task could go to Shenker. The Georgia native redshirted last season after becoming a late addition to the Tigers’ 2018 class. Auburn added him for his versatility, as he played H-back, tight end and big slot receiver interchangeably during his senior season at Colquitt County (Ga.) High School. Shenker has added 13 pounds since last season and looks like the next man up behind Cox.
Number to know
30: Cox has started in 30 games for Auburn across his first three seasons on the Plains. That is the most among any offensive player, and defensive tackle Dontavius Russell is the only other Tigers player with 30-plus starts in his career.
Questions for fall
Will Cox’s role evolve in his final season?
When it comes to lead blocking, Cox has been a consistent force for Auburn, and 2017 was his best season yet. The Tigers also gave him more opportunities as a receiver, catching 8 passes for 78 yards. His lone rushing attempt was a disastrous toss play against Clemson in Week 2, but offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and Malzahn didn’t rule him out of getting some chances to run the ball in 2018.
Cox’s role is an interesting one heading into 2018. The Tigers will throw the ball more than they did in 2017. Will that limit his involvement in the offense, or will it be a new avenue for impact? Lindsey could get creative with his talents and spring him for some big plays.
How much will the Tigers rely on the H-back this year?
Auburn’s run-pass split in 2018 will have an effect on the H-back position. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers use more 4-wide receiver sets this fall with Stidham and the deep group of talent they have out wide. If Auburn uses the tight end more in the passing game — again, don’t hold your breath — Cox would theoretically be behind several players for those routes.
Still, it’s hard to imagine Auburn not using its most experienced offensive starter, especially in front of a rushing attack that will have brand-new lead backs in 2018. While H-back easily can be overlooked in an offense that relies on making plays in space, the fall should be an intriguing one for a position that will evolve in the near future.