Auburn Football: Predicting the Depth Chart Heading into Fall Camp
With a little more than a month left to go before the start of college football season, it is time to take a look at how the Auburn Tigers are expected to line up for what they hope will be another SEC championship season.
As I wrote on Monday, predicting a depth chart for this year's fall camp has been a tough task as head coach Gus Malzahn did not release an official post-spring depth chart like he did in 2013.
No new starters have been made official by the coaching staff, although a few players stood out from the pack toward the end of spring camp and at the annual A-Day Game.
A few key positions remain a mystery thanks to a recent major injury on the defensive line, a few players who did not participate in spring practices and a host of talented newcomers now on campus.
Here is a look at what the depth chart might look like it when the Tigers return to the practice field. Most positions have three-deep projections, and returning starters on the chart are in italics.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
1. Nick Marshall (Senior)
2. Jeremy Johnson (Sophomore)
3. Jonathan Wallace (Junior)
4. Sean White (True Freshman)
In what has become a rarity the last decade, there is no quarterback controversy for Auburn heading into fall camp.
Although his recent marijuana citation has given Auburn fans cause for some concern, the Opelika-Auburn News' Drew Taylor reported Marshall is not required to lose playing time under Auburn's drug policy. In the days following his citation, Marshall's teammates rallied around the dual-threat passer as their No. 1 option under center.
"[Marshall] is still our leader," tight end C.J. Uzomah said last week at SEC media days. "We still have all the confidence in the world and faith in him, and we know he’s going to bounce back from this."
The spring and summer months did not cause any shakeup in Marshall's backups. Power-running quarterback Jeremy Johnson will provide Auburn with an extra weapon in special packages or lopsided games when the coaches will want to rest Marshall. Wallace is a reliable third-stringer who will be the Tigers' holder this season, so 4-star newcomer White will most likely take a redshirt this season.
1a. Cameron Artis-Payne (Senior)
1b. Corey Grant (Senior)
2. Peyton Barber (Redshirt Freshman)
3. Roc Thomas (True Freshman)
As I wrote in Monday's position battle preview, the race to become the starting running back is extremely close.
Running backs coach Tim Horton looks at it as a 50-50 race between Artis-Payne and Grant. According to AL.com's Brandon Marcello, Horton mimicked the flipping of a coin when he was asked in late April who his starter would be.
Artis-Payne gives the Auburn offense the between-the-tackles power it would most likely need out of a feature running back, but you cannot discount the work Grant has done to move past the notion that he is just a speed back. Their running styles work well together in a system that thrives on having as many weapons as possible.
Perhaps Auburn's best all-around running backs can be found in the underclassmen. Barber, who Heisman finalist Tre Mason called the "most-skilled running back" on Auburn's campus, is back to 100 percent after an A-Day injury, and the 5-star Thomas had the Tigers' coaching staff raving about his potential to be an early playmaker well before he stepped foot on campus.
1. Sammie Coates (Junior)
2. Ricardo Louis (Junior)
3. Melvin Ray (Junior)
1. D'haquille "Duke" Williams (Junior)
2. Tony Stevens (Sophomore)
3. Jaylon Denson (Junior)
1. Quan Bray (Senior)
2. Marcus Davis (Sophomore)
3. Stanton Truitt (True Freshman)
The Tigers rarely went to the air last season, but when they did, the ball usually went in the direction of the athletic Coates. That should change in 2014.
Williams, the nation's No. 1 JUCO player, wasted no time in proving his worth as a deep-ball receiver during spring practices and had a standout performance at the annual A-Day Game. He joins an experienced system that already features Coates, rising senior Quan Bray, the sure-handed Davis, Georgia game hero Louis and young vertical threat Stevens.
"As a coach, you’re always trying to get matchups that are favorable, but you also want to get your best players on the field, and we don’t feel like Sammie and Duke are our only good receivers either," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, per the Opelika-Auburn News' Alex Byington.
With a more accurate Marshall leading the offense, Malzahn, Lashlee and wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig will have more opportunities to get the ball all over the field this season. This is a position of immense depth for the Tigers, and almost everyone on the depth chart should have a chance to make an impact.
1. Brandon Fulse (Senior)
2. Gage Batten (Sophomore)
3. Chris Laye (True Freshman)
He might not have filled the stat sheets last season, but Jay Prosch was highly valuable to the Auburn offense last season.
Now Auburn's top "tough guy" is off to the NFL, and the Tigers will look to replace him with converted tight end Brandon Fulse, who coaches say is the early leader at the unique H-back position.
Fulse brings experience as a hand-in-the-dirt blocker along the Tigers' offensive line and as a reliable pass-catcher. If he can turn into the point of attack like Prosch was for the nation's No. 1 rushing offense, mark Fulse down as another veteran who could have a breakout year in a new role.
He will be backed up by Batten, who was the No. 2 H-back on the depth chart last season after his move from linebacker. Batten's lead-blocking skills could make him a better choice on certain plays and packages, so expect the Tigers to rotate players at this spot.
1. C.J. Uzomah (Senior)
2. Brandon Fulse (Senior)
3. Chris Laye (True Freshman)
There is no doubt Auburn has a great amount of veteran talent at the tight end position.
The question is whether the offense will utilize it more in 2014.
Uzomah, Marshall's replacement at SEC media days, was sporadically used as a target last season for the run-heavy Tigers. But now, with the emergence of new deep-ball threat Williams and Fulse's future committed to H-back, the senior should have more opportunities to get the ball from Marshall in the tight end or slot receiver position.
As a backup to Uzomah, Fulse gives Auburn more of a blocking threat at the traditional tight end role. The 6'5" Laye enrolled at Auburn this spring and got an early opportunity to make an impression on the coaching staff.
1. Alex Kozan (Sophomore)
2. Devonte Danzey (Junior)
3. Deon Mix (Redshirt Freshman)
1. Chad Slade (Senior)
2. Jordan Diamond (Sophomore)
3. Will Adams (Sophomore)
The Tigers should have a ton of confidence in their top guards, but the backups may be an area of concern if one of the returning starters go down with an injury.
Kozan's first season as a starter was a pleasant surprise for Auburn fans as he earned All-SEC honors as a redshirt freshman on one of the nation's most dominant lines. The versatile Slade has now found his spot at right guard after bouncing around the line as a starter, and he is set for another big season.
The rest of Auburn's interior line, though, is mostly untested.
Danzey, a former junior college transfer, got some work in three blowout games last season. Diamond is a favorite of offensive line coach J.B. Grimes, but his recurring injury woes kept him out of spring practices. And Although Adams has the size and pedigree of a tackle, he practiced at a new spot, right guard, this spring.
1. Shon Coleman (Sophomore)
2. Patrick Miller (Junior)
3. Robert Leff (Sophomore)
1. Avery Young (Junior)
2. Patrick Miller (Junior)
3. Braden Smith (True Freshman)
Young, who coaches say could play all five positions on the offensive line, practiced at several spots this spring, but he is widely expected to keep his starting job at right tackle.
Coleman emerged as the first-choice replacement for No. 2 NFL draft pick Greg Robinson at left tackle this spring. The redshirt sophomore has the physical gifts and potential to be another early exit to the pros if he picks up where Robinson left off last season.
Miller started the first few games of the 2013 season at right tackle, but a midseason suspension opened the door for Young to become the full-time starter. He practiced at both positions this spring, and he would be an extremely valuable backup with experience for both Coleman and Young this fall.
Grimes singled out Leff as a standout player from the spring, and he looks to be one for the future at Auburn. Another underclassman to watch will be newcomer Smith, who Grimes says may be too talented not to play early for the Tigers.
“I don’t think you run him out there for 10 snaps and blow a redshirt season, but on the other hand, he may be like Greg Robinson," Grimes said, per 247Sports' Philip Marshall. "He might be one of those guys that, if you redshirt him, he plays two seasons and he’s done anyway. That remains to be seen.”
1. Reese Dismukes (Senior)
2. Xavier Dampeer (Junior)
3. Deon Mix (Redshirt Freshman)
If there is one lock anywhere on Auburn's depth chart for the 2014 season, it is at center.
Dismukes has been an offensive leader through the highs and lows of these last few seasons on the Plains. In an offense where your center needs to read and react as much as your quarterback, the four-year starter's position on the depth chart should be chiseled in stone.
But with one of the nation's top centers leaving Auburn after this season, playing Dismukes' backups at different times this season would be a wise investment for the coaching staff.
Dampeer was 247Sports' No. 1 JUCO center for the 2014 class and drew praise from his new teammates during spring practices. Mix was moved from guard to center earlier this year to provide even more depth at one of the most important positions in Malzahn's patented offense.
1. LaDarius Owens (Senior)
2a. DaVonte Lambert (Junior)
2b. Justin Thornton (True Freshman)
1. Elijah Daniel (Sophomore)
2. Gimel President (Sophomore)
3. Andrew Williams (True Freshman)
Sophomore Carl Lawson's ACL injury and surgery has caused a major shakeup in Auburn's defensive line depth chart.
Lawson was projected to be Dee Ford's replacement in the starting lineup, but now that position is up for grabs in a deep unit that will feature several players this season.
"[Lawson] is a great player," center Reese Dismukes said at SEC media days. "But there are other great players behind him."
Although Owens missed most of spring practices with a foot injury, it would take a surprising set of fall practices to take the senior's starting job—barring another injury complication, that is. Daniel is the early favorite to grab a top spot on the depth chart, and President has an early advantage on a host of new Tigers at defensive end, including JUCO transfer Lambert.
1. Gabe Wright (Senior)
2a. Ben Bradley (Senior)
2b. Angelo Blackson (Senior)
1. Montravius Adams (Sophomore)
2. Jeff Whitaker (Senior)
3. Devaroe Lawrence (Junior)
Defensive tackle is by far the position with the most experience for Auburn, with only one underclassman projecting to break into the rotation this fall.
But Adams is no ordinary underclassman. The former 5-star recruit weighs more than 300 pounds yet still has the athleticism to play both his favored position of tackle or his new rotational spot at end.
Wright leads a quartet of seniors who are focused on ending their Auburn careers with a championship. The wild card in this group is Whitaker, a former starter who returns to action this season after missing all of 2013 with an injury.
"I thought Jeff was a little rusty when we started off," defensive line coach Rodney Garner told the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea. "Obviously the guy was out for a whole year, and that's tough, but at the same time he's a veteran. He knows what it takes."
1. Cassanova McKinzy (Junior)
2. Cameron Toney (Redshirt Freshman)
3. Tre' Williams (True Freshman)
1. Kris Frost (Junior)
2. Anthony Swain (Junior)
3. JaViere Mitchell (Sophomore)
The flip between McKinzy and Frost should benefit both players' skill sets this season as Auburn looks for more production out of its linebackers.
McKinzy led the team in tackles last season and will have more opportunities to take down the ball-carrier this season in the middle of the defense. Frost is moving back to his former position of outside linebacker, where his speed and coverage ability will be magnified.
Malzahn specifically noted Toney's play alongside the starters during spring practices and may have found a way into the rotation for 2014. Swain is back from an off-the-field issue that kept him away from the team all spring, and Mitchell will be fighting for more playing time after a few key plays toward the end of last season.
Williams is another player who could grab early playing time for a steadily improving Auburn defense. The 5-star Mobile native already made headlines for his comments on Alabama head coach Nick Saban—fans will want to see if he can make headlines on the field this year.
1. Robenson Therezie (Senior)
2. Justin Garrett (Junior)
3. Mackenro Alexander (Sophomore)
The Star might not have the experience of the defensive tackles or the spotlight of the running backs, but this is probably the most talented single position on the roster.
Garrett was the 2013 A-Day Game defensive MVP and was expected to be the leader of the 4-2-5 system that was new to Auburn. Unfortunately, injuries he attributed to flat feet kept him away from the field most of the season.
Therezie stepped up to the new position and became one of Auburn's best defensive players on the path to Atlanta, even picking up All-SEC honors prior to the upcoming season. Now that Garrett is healthy, fans should have a lot of confidence in whoever starts at the hybrid safety/linebacker position this fall.
Behind the two Stars is Alexander, who was singled out for praise this spring by Therezie for his improvement in pass coverage. Even if he does not see significant playing time at Star, the sophomore has the skills to play multiple positions for the Auburn secondary.
1. Jonathon Mincy (Senior)
2. Jonathan Jones (Junior)
3. Kamryn Melton (Sophomore)
1. Josh Holsey (Junior)
2. Jonathan Jones (Junior)
3. Trovon Reed (Senior)
Mincy made the flip from field to boundary cornerback this offseason to replace the departed Chris Davis, whose contributions in coverage were overshadowed by his special teams heroics in 2013. If he does not miss any playing time for his drug arrest in late June, expect the senior to start in Davis' spot against Arkansas.
The field cornerback position is still up in the air thanks to the status of Holsey, who returns this fall after a torn ACL kept him out of the final eight games of the Tigers' championship season. Holsey started at safety before the injury but was a cornerback in 2012—in fact, he lists himself on his Twitter bio as a "cornerback at Auburn University."
If Holsey returns to safety, Jones would be the next man up in the rotation. The speedy junior has gone through some of the worst injury luck during his time at Auburn but has starter-worthy talent when he is healthy.
Behind this trio are Melton and Reed, two cornerbacks who have taken completely different paths to the secondary. Melton has yet to log significant minutes during his short time at Auburn, while Reed is a former star receiver who is trying to make the most of his surprise move to defense this offseason.
1. Jermaine Whitehead (Senior)
2. Johnathan Ford (Sophomore)
3. Stephen Roberts (True Freshman)
1. Derrick Moncrief (Junior)
2. Brandon King (Senior)
3. Markell Boston (True Freshman)
Whitehead is often overlooked as a veteran presence for the Tigers' defense, but the senior is heading into his third consecutive season as a starter. He will be a leader for the young secondary in 2014.
Moncrief stepped onto campus and became an instant hit with the coaching staff, grabbing a first-team spot in the A-Day Game. In a position that has lacked depth in recent seasons, the JUCO transfer could be the boost the pass defense needs.
"He brings size and hitting capability, and he’s also good in coverage," Garrett said earlier this spring. "It’s really good having him back there. He learned the calls of the defense very fast."
Behind the two expected starters are Ford, a former cornerback who is making his second position change in less than a year, and King, who took full advantage of some increased practice time at a new position this spring. True freshmen Roberts and Boston could provide immediate depth this fall as they have the size and physicality the coaching staff is looking for out of their future defensive backs.
1. Daniel Carlson (Redshirt Freshman)
2a. Alex Kviklys (Junior)
2b. Duncan McKinney (Junior)
1. Jimmy Hutchinson (Redshirt Freshman)
2a. Jack Bjork (Redshirt Freshman)
2b. Tyler Stovall (Redshirt Freshman)
Although these are new starters, these projections are as straightforward as they come.
Carlson and Hutchinson were expected to replace Cody Parkey and Steven Clark this season as soon as they signed with the Tigers last year. Both were top high school players at their respective positions and got full redshirt seasons to get plugged into the program.
The remaining kickers and punters on the roster will provide emergency relief for Auburn in case Carlson or Hutchinson are unable to play at some point this season.