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.
We wrap up our look at the offense with tight ends.
- Jalen Harris (senior)
- Sal Cannella (junior)
- John Samuel Shenker (redshirt freshman)
Answers from spring practice
Where will Sal Cannella line up in 2018?
Auburn’s tight end position has been used almost exclusively as a blocker for the last three seasons, with Jalen Harris leading the way for the most recent two. Harris, a senior, is in line to start again in 2018. His blocking on the edge took a strong step forward in 2017 and will be a boost to a reconfigured rushing attack this fall.
As for Cannella, the JUCO transfer fell out of favor in the rotation as a big slot receiver in 2017. After 2 receptions in the first three games, he had only 1 more in the final 11. However, Cannella spent a lot of time this spring with his hand in the dirt as a tight end and got some balls thrown his way during the annual A-Day spring game. With an abundance of receivers, tight end should be the spot for the Illinois native.
Is Auburn prepping for more tight end usage?
This answer came slightly after spring practice, but May served as a notice. Auburn picked up commitments from two tight ends for the Class of 2019 — Luke Deal and Tyler Fromm — in the matter of a few weeks. Both are 6-foot-5 and could be the missing pieces at the tight end position.
If Auburn wants to throw the ball more to its tight ends in 2019 and beyond, it could use 2018 as a stepping-stone. Harris has been a target only on gadget plays so far in his career, but Cannella physically has everything Auburn would want in a receiving tight end. If the Tigers focus his development there for the rest of this offseason, it could pay off with some targets.
Number to know
3: Harris has had 3 receptions in his Auburn career — 2 for 16 yards and 2 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016 and 1 for 5 yards against Alabama as a junior in 2017. The Tigers haven’t had a tight end catch at least 5 passes in a season since C.J. Uzomah had 11 in 2014.
Questions for fall
Will Auburn actually throw to its tight ends more in 2018?
Auburn fans have bemoaned the Tigers’ lack of receiving opportunities for tight ends over the last few years. Right now, throwing it to the tight end is in full “believe it when you see it” mode. Coaches have talked extensively about using them more in the passing game, but the talk hasn’t been backed up by actual results.
With Auburn’s talent at wide receiver, the Tigers don’t need a tight end to be one of its go-to targets in 2018. But getting closer to double-digit receptions would show quarterback Jarrett Stidham had a reliable safety valve and gadget-play target at tight end in 2018. Don’t expect it, but don’t be completely shocked if it happens.
Can Cannella or John Samuel Shenker establish themselves as a top tight end for 2019?
This season is a big one for Cannella and Shenker, as the Tigers are about to reload at the “extra man” with Ford and Fromm. If Cannella can earn and take advantage of any chances he gets as a receiving tight end, Auburn could rely on him in 2019 while Ford and Fromm adjust to the college game.
Shenker has split time between H-back and tight end since he arrived on campus. Auburn wants that versatility down the road, and it could get that with the 2019 tight ends. If Shenker can provide depth at both spots, he could be locked into a starting job for a while.