Auburn Football: 5 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expanded in 2014
Although temperatures on the Plains dropped to winter depths earlier this week, Auburn football's spring practice is continuing to heat up as the defending SEC champions participate in their second week of action.
Most of the starters from Auburn's 2013 squad are back and preparing for another run at the national championship, but Gus Malzahn and his staff still have several pieces to replace heading into the upcoming season. From NFL-bound offensive stars Greg Robinson and Tre Mason to veteran defensive playmakers Chris Davis and Dee Ford, Auburn will have to fill a few important gaps in its depth chart.
Spring practice is the perfect opportunity for Auburn's returning talent to take charge of a starting position or adapt to a new role on the team. Malzahn and his staff are continuing to rotate players in and out of the first two units, looking for new talent in key areas.
As the Tigers prepare for their first spring scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday, let's take a look at five players who could make a new kind of impact for Auburn in 2014.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All stats taken from CFBStats.com, and all recruiting rankings are from 247Sports.
RB Corey Grant
Corey Grant will enter the 2014 season as a leading candidate to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason as Auburn's starting running back. Whether the former Alabama Crimson Tide player gets most of the carries or Auburn elects to go with a running-back-by-committee setup like it did at the beginning of the last season, Grant figures to have more responsibility in 2014 after rushing for 647 yards and six touchdowns at the team's speed-back role in 2013.
Grant told Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News that he is hoping to show his coaches this spring that he can be more of an all-around running back in hopes of getting the top spot on the depth chart.
“That’s one thing I do want to do — establish myself. Because, you know, it’s a question if I can run between the tackles, (and) I want to get that established throughout spring and going into the fall, letting everybody know I can do that.”
The speedster known as "Tail Lights" will also have an opportunity this season to replace Mason as Auburn's primary kick returner. Grant returned a kick for a touchdown at Tennessee last season, and he sounds confident in returning as a special-teams weapon this season, telling the Montgomery Advertiser's Will Gaines he is looking for "whoever is going to block" for him at the No. 2 returner spot.
Expect to see a more physical Grant contribute out of the backfield and out of the back of the end zone in Auburn's upcoming campaign.
TE/H-Back Brandon Fulse
The Auburn offense will have to replace one of its largely unsung heroes of the 2013 run to Pasadena in H-back Jay Prosch. While Prosch was a traditional fullback during his time at Illinois, the Mobile native became a sledgehammer presence as lead blocker in Malzahn's offense at H-back.
Four different players are currently working at H-back during Auburn's spring practice, but tight end Brandon Fulse could emerge as an early front-runner for the job. While fellow tight end C.J. Uzomah is more of a pass-catcher, Fulse has experience as a "hand in the dirt" blocker, as he lined up alongside Prosch at H-back in some power formations last season.
The H-back position could have more of a role in Auburn's growing passing game for the 2013 season, and Fulse brings the talents of both a blocker and a receiver in addition to his powerful 6'4", 272-pound frame.
As the position battle continues with Uzomah, former walk-on Gage Batten and reinstated tight end Ricky Parks, look for Fulse to show off his wider skill set in a crucial position for Auburn's offense.
DL Montravius Adams
The Tigers will replace several major contributors along the defensive line this season, including potential first-round pick Dee Ford and longtime starter Nosa Eguae.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and defensive line coach Rodney Garner took advantage of Auburn's mix of veteran talent and blue-chip freshmen along the front four last season, and the two have continued to mix it up in spring practice.
The 6'4", 306-pound rising sophomore has taken snaps at defensive end after recording 20 tackles at defensive tackle in his first season on the Plains. Fellow class of 2013 member Carl Lawson told Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer that he thinks Adams can make an even bigger impact at end, despite his massive frame.
Montravius Adams is behind me [at left end]. Mont is a freaky athlete. So he’s another one of the guys that can play end or tackle.
With Auburn's phenomenal freshman trio figuring to play even bigger roles in Auburn's 4-2-5 defense, look for the physically gifted Adams to make plays all across the defensive line in 2014.
LB Kris Frost
After rotating with the now-departed Jake Holland at middle linebacker last season, former 4-star recruit and rising junior Kris Frost is back at outside linebacker, where he backed up Daren Bates in 2012.
Frost was fifth on the team with 53 tackles last season and finished the season with more tackles than Holland.
The Matthews, N.C., native has flipped positions with 2013's leading tackler, Cassanova McKinzy, and he told AL.com's Joel Erickson the move will benefit both Tigers.
I have traits of an outside linebacker, and Cass has traits of a middle linebacker. We’re adjusting well to it. Cass is doing a really good job with all the calls and making sure the defense is where we need it to be and everything.
Frost showed his athleticism by running down Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel for a last-minute, third-down stop in Auburn's 45-41 victory in College Station last season. He will have to use those physical skills more in coverage at "will" linebacker and could be one of Auburn's biggest defensive contributors with the starting job in 2014.
CB Trovon Reed
Although he was a 5-star wide receiver coming out of high school, rising senior Trovon Reed never really broke out as an offensive weapon for the Tigers.
However, Auburn will look to use his speed and ball skills at cornerback this season, joining running back Johnathan "Rudy" Ford in making a full-time move to the secondary this spring.
With Jonathon Mincy looking to take over Chris Davis' role as boundary cornerback, Reed will have a chance to grab the starting role at field cornerback in preseason practice.
Reed is also one of a dozen Tigers who have had reps at punt returner so far this spring.
His one recorded return of 2013 did not go well—Reed had a net loss of four yards—but he has experience at the role, which could be a factor as Auburn looks to replace Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis.
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