AUBURN, Ala. — New Auburn football offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey says he doesn’t want to single out his young wide receivers for individual praise.
What he can say, though, is that the overall group is taking some much-needed steps forward this spring after being thrown into the fire as underclassmen last fall.
“You start loving one guy too much and then he does something that makes you maybe not like him that much for that day,” Lindsey said with a smile. “No, that group is really improving. (Wide receivers coach Kodi Burns) is doing a great job with them. Their deal is they have to continue to put good days back to back together, and by the end of the spring, hopefully we’ll be much improved.”
Lindsey sees progress despite not yet having his full squad at receiver during preseason practices.
Sophomore Kyle Davis, who led the team with 20.67 yards per catch as a true freshman in 2016, missed the first two weeks of practice “taking care of some personal business.” Auburn expects Davis to be at practice Tuesday when the Tigers return from spring break.
Davis and Slayton are expected to be the leaders at Auburn’s outside receiver positions in 2017, so their absences opened the door for others in the young group.
“It’s given some opportunity for other guys to get a lot of work, that’s for sure,” Lindsey said. “It’s a good group as a whole. Obviously, we have some things to improve on and that young group played in the SEC early last year so they grew up fast. At the same time, I think this is a big spring for them and their development.”
Sophomore Nate Craig-Myers is one of those receivers getting more reps this spring. Craig-Myers joined Davis and Eli Stove as 4-star signees last year, but nagging injuries kept him from making much of an impact in his true freshman campaign.
Craig-Myers said he learned from the lessons of a frustrating first season, and he expects the rest of his teammates to do the same as they adjust to a new scheme.
“I think we’re more experienced,” Craig-Myers said. “I feel like we’re taking coaching well. We’re a lot of young guys but now we’ve got one year under our belt. I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job.”
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said he also sees important change in the Tigers’ wideouts this spring.
“It’s more as a group, just their overall confidence and attitude,” Malzahn said. “You could tell a difference. They have a year of experience under their belt and playing time. They’re more confident the way they carry themselves.”
The progression of Auburn’s young receivers coincides with the arrival of Lindsey and projected starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Together, the Tigers expect to throw the ball more in 2017 after several run-heavy seasons under former offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
“That’s every receiver’s dream,” Craig-Myers said. “Your eyes light up. We’re a run team, so when you hear the ball’s coming to the outside, the perimeter, it feels good because now we feel like we can make plays.”
A lot of that new action toward the receivers will come through run-pass options, which Craig-Myers believes will help the offense as a whole. With RPOs, most plays can turn from run looks to passes in a split-second.
Pulling off those plays, which will most likely become the base of the Auburn offense, requires precise timing and good chemistry between the quarterback and his receivers. That makes this spring even more important for Craig-Myers and his fellow wideouts, as Auburn has multiple newcomers at quarterback.
“We try to get some time in after practice and make some throws,” Craig-Myers said. “It’s just a big factor because once we start clicking, we’ll be big-time.”