Auburn Football: Tigers Who Could Surprise People This Spring
Auburn took the field this week for the first time since losing the BCS National Championship Game to Florida State, 34-31.
The mood about this year's spring practice could not be more different than that of 2013. Last year was all about proving people wrong; this year is all about proving them right. It's replication instead of redemption, confirmation not conversion.
The Tigers return most of their depth from last year's SEC-champion team, but the pieces they lost were among the most important on the team. In fact, one could argue that Greg Robinson, Tre Mason and Dee Ford were the most important persons on the roster (save head coach Gus Malzahn). How do you replace such talent?
It all starts in the spring, when depth chart battles will be waged across each position. Exciting newcomers like receiver D'haquille Williams and Derrick Moncrief—teammates last year at community college—will draw plenty of attention, but the beauty of the next month is the players who come from nowhere.
The guys who succeed when no one's looking.
Here are some Auburn players that might sneak up on people.
WR Stanton Truitt
This is the cool thing about spring practice. You never know what, or whom, will be the earliest development of consequence.
On the first day of camp Tuesday, early enrollee Stanton Truitt—a 5'10'' receiver from Monroe, Ga., who was only a 3-star recruit on the 247Sports composite—took snaps with the first team in the slot and out of the backfield, per Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News.
Does that mean he'll necessarily have a role to play come the fall? Nope. But it means he'll at least have a shot.
Tuitt is the short, shifty, versatile type of playmaker that has come to be en vogue these past few seasons. Think De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Tavon Austin at West Virginia or Darren Sproles in the NFL.
Auburn didn't have one of those players last season. Now it does. And Gus Malzahn intends to see what his new toy can do.
"Truitt is going to be a good guy. He’s quick with his feet, great hands," said safety Jermaine Whitehead, per Byington. "(He's) going to be able to help us real fast."
Recruiting consensuses be damned.
DT Jeffrey Whitaker
I'm not sure "surprise" is the right word for what Whitaker might do this spring.
He was a two-year starter and three-year contributor before knee surgery knocked him out for all of 2013. If he looks like one of the best defensive tackles on the team, it might not come as a surprise, per se, since we've all already seen him perform at that level.
The correct term might be "pleasant relief."
For even if Whitaker is expected to come back and play well—and even if he told 247Sports (subscription required) that he plans for this to be "the best year of his career"—it's not often a player comes back from a senior year redshirt, so Auburn fans are not sure what to expect.
So much has changed in a year, after all. The team Whitaker last suited up for was coming off an historically terrible year. This one is coming off the opposite. Whitaker played in the Tigers' other recent national title game against Oregon but sat out the one against Florida State. What have you done for me lately?
With Nosa Eguae departed, there is room yet for Whitaker, pending a full recovery and strong camp, to stake a claim for consistent playing time. We'll see what kind of niche he can carve.
OT Shon Coleman
And then there were two.
Auburn opened spring camp with Avery Young, the starting right tackle at the end of last season, in the same role and Patrick Miller, the previous right tackle whom Young took over for mid-season, slightly ahead of Shon Coleman for the right to replace Greg Robinson.
Fans want what's best for the team impartially, but it's hard not to root for Coleman. He did, after all, return to the team last season after leaving for three years to fight (and beat) cancer. This would be a redemption story fit for Hollywood.
The question is whether he's actually good enough. Miller get the first crack running with the "ones," but Coleman, who backed up Robinson in 2013, split those reps with him, per James Crepea of the Montgomery Advisor. This spring will determine the front-runner come the fall.
This is tentatively expected to be a neck-and-neck race, but Coleman shows up on this list for his potential to stake a lead.
He was used in heavy sets last season and even saw time against Florida State, whereas Miller got replaced by Young then nary got back on the field. That has to mean something—right?
Coleman has a chance to make a statement this upcoming month.
CB Kamryn Melton
Kamryn Melton saw action in three games before injuring his knee and taking a redshirt last season.
Now a second-year freshman, however, the former 3-star recruit from Dothan, Al., is ready to compete for a meaningful role in the Tigers' rebuilt secondary—perhaps even one with the starting lineup.
Jonathan Mincy has moved to Chris Davis's old role of boundary corner, leaving a vacancy across the formation at field corner.
Johnathan Jones, whose speed translates well to that position, is the tentative favorite, but Melton and converted receiver Trovon Reed split reps with him during practice, per Alex Byington of Dothan Eagle.
For their own respective reasons, Jones and Reed are sexier options than Melton. But Melton is steady and shouldn't be slept on—exactly the type of guy who could surprise.
He's clearly committed to the position, having tweeting out this picture of added bulk and saying he's up from 170 pounds last season to 185 pounds on March 11. We'll see how that translates to the field.
QBs Jeremy Johnson and Jonathan Wallace
Jeremy Johnson is the quarterback of the future at Auburn.
Almost any way you slice it, he will not surpass Nick Marshall this season. Still, it would be remiss to not at least mention something ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said Gus Malzahn told him in January.
"This spring, Gus Malzahn told me the other day, no matter what happens tonight, there's going to be a battle in the spring between Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall," Herbstreit said on College GameDay before the national title game, according to Drew Champlin of AL.com.
Is that for real? Again, probably not. But it speaks toward how highly Malzahn, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and the rest of Auburn's coaches think of Johnson, who is entering his sophomore year. With another strong showing in camp, he has a chance to make Tigers fans even more comfortable about 2015.
(A strong spring would also bring whispers of dissent should Marshall struggle in non-conference play, but that's a worry for another time.)
Meanwhile, third-string quarterback Jonathan Wallace, who competed with Marshall and Johnson for the starting gig last season, turned some heads with an added position on Tuesday. According to Joel Erickson of AL.com, he was spotted on the punt team covering kicks.
I guess he's gotta get back on the field somehow...