AUBURN, Ala. — Marcus Davis entered his senior season as the veteran leader with the most reliable hands on Auburn’s roster.
But one of those hands has been wrapped in tape and fitted with a splint.
A hand injury to Davis — the full extent of which is unknown — has severely cut into his playing time and his pass-catching opportunities in the month of October.
After recording 13 catches for 100 yards in the first four games of the season, Davis didn’t have one in either of Auburn’s wins against Louisiana-Monroe and Mississippi State. The senior, who hasn’t spoken to the media since Sept. 20, was only targeted by starting quarterback Sean White once in those two contests.
“The numbers may not be where he would want them or where you would want them as a senior wideout, but I think he’s proven over the course of his career here that he can make big plays when we need them,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Sunday night. “You know, for us to win some of these games down the stretch … we need guys like him to step up.”
Lashlee said he believes that will happen for Davis in the second half of Auburn’s 2016 season. Davis got some much-needed recovery time for his hand during the recent off week, and Lashlee sees a difference in his veteran wide receiver as Auburn begins preparation for a visit from No. 17 Arkansas.
“I think Marcus is the healthiest he’s been, knock on wood, since the season’s started,” Lashlee said. “He’s been playing with his hand taped up and splinted up, and I think that’s probably why you saw him drop a couple balls earlier in the year that he doesn’t normally drop. I think he’s going to be out of that and be full speed now, though.”
Unofficially, Davis has been responsible for 4 drops this season, including 2 in Auburn’s Week 3 loss to Texas A&M. Since that game, Davis only has 3 catches on 4 targets for 13 yards.
The 5-foot-9 Florida native has never been one for massive yardage during his Auburn career. The most yards Davis has averaged per catch in a season is 9.43, which came when he was a freshman in 2013.
Davis carved out a role as a go-to slot receiver who could make the quick catches to move the chains. That job in recent games has gone to sophomore Ryan Davis as the Tigers mostly focused on getting the elder Davis back to full health.
“He has a few issues health-wise that we just wanted to be smart with him,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said in his Mississippi State week press conference. “But Marcus is one of our staple guys, and he’ll be on the field more moving forward.”
Davis’ fellow senior receiver, Tony Stevens, said his teammate performed well in practice Sunday afternoon with the healed-up hand.
“That hand was probably holding him back, but he was trying to fight through it because he’s a tough guy,” Stevens said Sunday night. “He looked pretty good out there today with the cast off.”
Davis broke out into the spotlight as the freshman receiver who caught a crucial third-down pass from Nick Marshall in Auburn’s 45-41 road upset of Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.
Three seasons later, Davis has at least six more games left in his college career, trying to end it on a high note after a slow start to 2016.
Stevens believes Davis will get back to flashing those reliable — and tape-free — hands in the second half of the season.
“We’ve just got to pick it up and take it to another level on this last back end,” Stevens said. “We need to just execute, really, because as seniors, we don’t have anything left. We have to take that into playing and just give it everything we’ve got.”