AUBURN, Ala. — When the Tigers officially finished preseason camp Monday, they had few major tasks left to accomplish. Naming a quarterback is the priority, yet as the three quarterbacks continue battling for the starting job, the offense already is working on the next step — preparing the wide receivers.
Senior wide receivers Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens strengthened their leadership roles during the first two weeks of August. They both are looking for breakout seasons to end their Auburn careers. The veteran receivers largely are responsible for the urgent duty of acclimating newcomers to their position as quickly as possible.
“There’s several freshmen, they need to be able to help us this year,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “We’ve just got to keep kind of pushing them through it, you can’t really baby them. You can’t bring them along slow. You’ve just got to throw them into the fire, throw them in there with the big boys and they’re going to learn to swim.”
Freshman Nate Craig-Myers — the sixth-ranked receiver in the 2016 class — immediately was thrown into the mix, rotating at a key spot alongside Davis and junior WR Jason Smith.
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“(At that spot) you have to be ready for a lot more things coming your way,” Davis said. “You have to be physical when it comes to blocking and everything. The 9 and the 2 are positions where it’s a lot of running involved, it’s not a big difference, but you just have to be ready to be more physical. I would say it’s tough, but Nate is a mature guy. He’s really mature and for him, he’s been learning very easy. He’s got guys in front of him like myself helping him out. We spend a lot of time together and with the coaches just helping him out in walkthrough and everything like that. He’s a quick learner and he’s been progressing fast.”
Wide receivers coach Kodi Burns has been gifted a group of incoming freshmen who resemble juniors and seniors with their size. In addition to their natural attributes, the group remains focused despite the pending quarterback decision.
“You try to focus on yourself,” redshirt freshman WR Darius Slayton said. “You got three different guys throwing to you. They all throw a little different. They all play a little different. You try to focus on yourself and do the best you can to try to catch everything that comes your way.”
Their influence and playmaking abilities are obvious. Eli Stove and Craig-Myers were responsible for several head-turning plays during the two scrimmages at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“Eli, that’s a quick guy. He got great ability for the ball,” junior DB Stephen Roberts said. “He don’t mind jumping for it, and if he gets hurt he’ll get right back up. That’s a tough guy. Our coach preaches about it all the time, just being tough and physical. That’s what it’s about. (Nate also) looked pretty good. He’s big and aggressive, a great blocker. He can run routes really well, too, on the inside. He looked really nice.”
After classes begin Tuesday, coach Gus Malzahn will shift Auburn’s focus from team improvement to game planning for Clemson. Davis is pleased with the direction the unit has taken to this point.
“All those guys have been doing different things,” Davis said. “I think we did well. Guys are flying around, it’s always good when people are excited to be out there making plays. I think every time someone had a chance to make a play we did, so we left the field with a good feeling.”