Auburn Football: Projecting Post-Spring 2-Deep Depth Chart
Spring practices have come and gone on the Plains for 2014, leaving the Auburn Tigers and their fans eagerly anticipating the season-opening kickoff against Arkansas in four months.
Unlike this time last season, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and his staff have not released a full post-spring, two-deep depth chart.
Many of the starting jobs for the defending SEC champions are virtually set in stone, as many starters and key contributors from last season's title-winning squad are back for the 2014 season.
However, there are still a few spots left on the depth chart up for some debate, with a couple of high-profile position battles that will most likely continue when fall practice begins.
Starting with the Tigers' highly touted offense and continuing with their under-the-radar defense, here is a look at how Auburn's two-deep depth chart could look come August.
(Bold indicates a returning starter and italics indicate an incoming freshman who will arrive this summer.)
1. Nick Marshall
2. Jeremy Johnson
Nick Marshall will be a rarity for both Malzahn and Auburn fans when the Tigers take the field this fall. After leading Auburn to an SEC title in his first season, the former JUCO transfer had a full slate of spring practices to develop his dual-threat talents in Malzahn's famed hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
Marshall will be Auburn's first opening-day returning starter at quarterback since Brandon Cox in 2007, and Malzahn has not had a full offseason to work with his signal-caller since he made the jump from high school to collegiate coaching.
The Tigers plan to balance their offense in 2014 after boasting an overwhelmingly run-heavy attack last season, and all eyes will be on Marshall during the transition. Marshall showcased a more accurate arm and a calmer pocket presence at Auburn's A-Day, earning the game's offensive MVP honors with 236 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
Jeremy Johnson, Auburn's quarterback of the future, was surprisingly not redshirted last season and appeared in six different games. The 6'5" sophomore from Montgomery, Ala., was not particularly impressive at A-Day, but he is still expected to get snaps for the Tigers this season in special packages.
1a. Cameron Artis-Payne
1b. Corey Grant
2a. Peyton Barber
2b. Racean Thomas
Auburn's high-powered rushing attack will have to replace Heisman finalist Tre Mason, but it should not slow down much thanks to the return of two senior standouts.
The powerful Cameron Artis-Payne and the speedy Corey Grant—who ran the 40-yard dash in an unofficial time of 4.18 seconds last Saturday—ran for a combined 1,257 yards last season on only 157 carries. By comparison, Mason had 1,816 yards on 317 carries.
With the Tigers planning to throw the ball more in 2014, there could be less of a need for a workhorse back like Mason and more of a committee system that highlights the individual skill sets of Artis-Payne and Grant.
Second-string running back Peyton Barber suffered a setback at A-Day by suffering a high ankle sprain, which could impact his progression this fall. Incoming 5-star running back Racean "Roc" Thomas could make an instant impact in the Auburn offense this fall as the Tigers look for the top running back after the senior duo of Artis-Payne and Grant leaves after 2014.
1. Brandon Fulse
2. Gage Batten
The four-way battle to replace former All-American fullback Jay Prosch has a new front-runner.
Tight ends coach and special-teams coordinator Scott Fountain told the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea last week senior Brandon Fulse is "a little bit ahead of everybody at the [H-back] position."
Fulse, who has been primarily an in-line blocking tight end in Malzahn's system, was the popular candidate to replace Prosch heading into spring camp, and it seems the senior will be the one to beat this fall.
Former walk-on linebacker Gage Batten backed up Prosch last season and will most likely be second-string for the Tigers in 2014. Fountain told Crepea he estimated Batten took "about 60 snaps" last season, which he called "invaluable" for the offense.
1. Sammie Coates
2. Melvin Ray
1. D'haquille Williams
2. Ricardo Louis
1. Quan Bray
2. Marcus Davis
Auburn returns two starters at wide receiver this season—one virtual lock to be the No. 1 wideout for Marshall's second season and another who returned to prominence at A-Day.
The speedy Sammie Coates averaged 21.48 yards per catch for the Tigers last season, good enough for No. 3 in the national rankings. The junior was the ideal deep-ball threat for Auburn, which ran mostly play-action passing plays in 2013.
While Coates was the only consistent big-play threat out wide for Auburn in its run to the BCS National Championship Game, he is no longer alone.
Enter D'haquille "Duke" Williams, the former top JUCO recruit in the nation, who wasted no time in making a name for himself at A-Day. Coaches say the Auburn newcomer exemplifies the attack mentality wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig wants to see out of a group that showed flashes of brilliance last season.
Quan Bray was the starter at slot receiver for the final few games of Auburn's 2013 season, but Deep South's Oldest Rivalry hero Ricardo Louis made a late push for more playing time. Bray countered with a strong spring and a two-touchdown performance at A-Day, and the senior will most likely be back in the starting lineup in this constantly rotating unit of playmakers.
1. C.J. Uzomah
2. Brandon Fulse
After grabbing the game-winning touchdown against Mississippi State in the Tigers' 2013 SEC opener, tight end C.J. Uzomah became an overlooked target for the Auburn offense as it steadily became more and more dominated by the running game.
Uzomah never caught more than three passes in one game last season, but his lack of targets could become a thing of the past as Marshall develops a stronger intermediate passing game this season. If defenses key on Coates and Williams out wide, Uzomah could emerge as a go-to man down the middle of the field for Marshall.
The 6'5" senior has all the physical tools to be the perfect receiving tight end for Malzahn's offense, it will just be a matter of using him more in 2014. Uzomah also worked at slot receiver and at H-back during spring camp, showcasing his versatility in Auburn's fluid attack.
With Fulse emerging as the new No. 1 at H-back, Uzomah should see most of the snaps at tight end this season. Auburn has several young tight ends on its 2014 roster, but none of them are expected to shake the senior Uzomah from his starting spot.
1. Shon Coleman
2. Patrick Miller
Fourth-year sophomore and cancer survivor Shon Coleman was the first-team left tackle in Auburn's last few spring practices and at A-Day. While nothing has been made official at this point, all signs point to Coleman instead of versatile tackle Patrick Miller as Greg Robinson's replacement on Auburn's veteran front five.
1. Alex Kozan
2. Devonte Danzey
After a standout redshirt freshman season, Alex Kozan returns as an anchor for a left side that featured one of the school's most dominant tackles in Robinson. Devonte Danzey, who was once the nation's No. 1 JUCO guard, also returns as Kozan's backup with another season of experience under his belt.
1. Reese Dismukes
2. Xavier Dampeer
Reese Dismukes has been one of the most reliable presences for Auburn during the ups and downs of the last three seasons on the Plains. Dismukes will be a fourth-year starter heading into the 2014 campaign, and he will be backed up by No. 1 JUCO center Xavier Dampeer, who received high praise from coaches and teammates alike all spring long.
1. Chad Slade
2. Jordan Diamond
Senior Chad Slade moved around on the offensive line during the team's mid-spring practice shakeup, but he seems to be a lock to return as Auburn's starting right guard. His backup, sophomore Jordan Diamond, saw limited action during practice after undergoing offseason knee surgery, but he should be 100 percent by the time fall camp starts.
1. Avery Young
2. Patrick Miller
Auburn's offensive coaches have said tackle Avery Young "could play all five positions on the offensive line," but he is expected to return on the right side this season after winning the job midway through the 2013 season. He replaced Miller, who missed a few games due to suspension and will most likely be on the outside looking in at both tackle positions this fall.
1. LaDarius Owens
2. Gimel President
LaDarius Owens started on the opposite end of Senior Bowl MVP Dee Ford last season, and despite missing the entire spring with a foot injury, the senior is expected to reclaim his role in the fall. Auburn's defensive line rotated heavily last season, so while Owens may get the start on paper, several ends could be making a difference game after game at his spot.
1. Gabe Wright
2. Ben Bradley
1. Montravius Adams
2. Jeffrey Whitaker
Senior Gabe Wright returns as a starter at defensive tackle, where he recorded 8.5 tackles for loss in 2013. He will most likely line up beside sophomore standout Montravius Adams at a position that returns veteran talent in strong tackles Jeffrey Whitaker and Ben Bradley.
Both Wright and Adams took snaps this spring at defensive end, which led to a brand-new "Rhino" package that featured four defensive tackles. While it might have been created out of necessity in Auburn's injury-filled spring, look out for the "Rhino" to rampage a few times this fall.
1a. Elijah Daniel
1b. Carl Lawson
2. Keymiya Harrell
Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson each missed time on Auburn's banged-up defensive line this spring, but they should be ready to continue their battle for a starting spot this fall. Both sophomores were highly touted recruits coming out of high school, and both will most likely see significant time in their second seasons on the Plains—no matter who gets the nod as a starter.
1. Cassanova McKinzy
2. Tre Williams
1. Kris Frost
2. Kenny Flowers
Auburn returns a starter and a veteran role player to its linebacker corps this season, but there is a twist.
After leading the team in tackles last season, Cassanova McKinzy has made the switch from starting weak-side linebacker to starting middle linebacker. McKinzy swapped spots with Kris Frost, an athletic middle linebacker who rotated heavily with the now-departed Jake Holland at middle linebacker.
Both McKinzy and Frost have experience at both positions, but Frost said early in the spring the position switch would highlight their individual traits better. McKinzy is one of Auburn's surest tacklers, while Frost showcased his excellent pursuit abilities last season against top-level talent like Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
With injuries affecting Auburn's reserve depth this spring, Kenny Flowers emerged as a serviceable backup at both linebacker spots with his defensive MVP performance at A-Day. Also, 5-star linebacker Tre Williams will hit the Plains this summer with a chance to make an early impression in his freshman season.
1. Robenson Therezie
2. Justin Garrett
Star is the safety/linebacker hybrid spot that separates Ellis Johnson's system from most in the world of college football, and the Tigers have two returning talents to man the position this fall.
Former safety Robenson Therezie stepped up as the starter at Star when projected starter Justin Garrett missed most of 2013 with not one, but two separate foot injuries.
Therezie made the most of his time at star, leading the team in interceptions and finishing sixth on the squad in tackles.
Garrett. 2013's A-Day Defensive MVP, is fully practicing again this spring thanks to special orthotics during the offseason. The junior said he is willing to contribute anywhere this season, from working back at the star to a defensive back in the dime package.
Therezie, who played through most of spring practice with a broken hand, will be back to start at the hybrid spot this season. With an experienced player like Garrett behind Therezie, Auburn fans should feel confident about the star position this season.
1. Jonathon Mincy
2. Kamryn Melton
1. Jonathan Jones
2. Trovon Reed
Jonathon Mincy makes the move from field-side cornerback to boundary cornerback, a position held last season by Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis. However, Mincy could move back to the opposite side of the field—depending on the health of Jonathan Jones, whose Auburn career has been plagued with injury problems.
If that move is made, look for sophomore Kamryn Melton or senior Trovon Reed to break into the unit for extra playing time. Reed was particularly impressive this spring after his switch from wide receiver, culminating in several pass breakups with the first-team defense at A-Day.
1. Derrick Moncrief
2. Joshua Holsey
1. Jermaine Whitehead
2. Johnathan Ford
Like D'haquille Williams, Derrick Moncrief is another product from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College who is expected to start early at Auburn.
Moncrief quickly rose up the ranks to become a first-team safety for the Tigers in spring camp. At A-Day, the JUCO transfer came close to a diving interception of backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson and delivered a few of the big hits Ellis Johnson has been wanting to see from his defense.
Senior Jermaine Whitehead started every game for Auburn last season at field safety and will look to finish his memorable career with another strong campaign. Former running back Johnathan "Rudy" Ford has made the move from cornerback to safety this spring and made an instant impression with his big-hit prowess.
The wild card of the entire secondary is Joshua Holsey. The safety suffered a season-ending knee injury last October and sat out the entire spring to recover from the injury. Holsey brings the experience of a starter to a secondary that has struggled with depth recently, so only time will tell what role he will play this fall.
1. Daniel Carlson
2. Alex Kviklys
1. Jimmy Hutchinson
2. Tyler Stovall
The first-team specialists' picture is straightforward after the departures of longtime starters Cody Parkey and Steven Clark. The Tigers will start redshirt freshmen Daniel Carlson and Jimmy Hutchinson, who were the top recruits at their respective positions.
Carlson had an up-and-down A-Day with both a 50-yard field goal and a missed extra point, while Hutchinson booted a few punts that traveled more than 40 yards against a non-live return team. The two freshmen will enter their starting jobs with a lot of buzz this season, but it may take a few regular-season games for fans to get a good read on the newcomers.
1. Corey Grant
2. Quan Bray
1. Robenson Therezie
2. Marcus Davis
Corey Grant lined up alongside fellow running back Tre Mason for kick returns last season and had a few big-time special team plays, including a touchdown against Tennessee. Grant has the speed and vision to be a deadly special teams weapon for Auburn this season.
Quan Bray also has experience at both kick returner and punt returner last season, but he struggled with making the all-important first move against opposing coverages.
The punt returner (and missed field-goal returner) job left by Chris Davis is still wide open as Robenson Therezie and Marcus Davis headlined the group of almost a dozen players getting work at the position this spring.
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.