Auburn, Ala.--When Gus Malzahn arrived at Auburn in 2009 as the offensive coordinator one of the first orders of business was to find a go-to receiver or two for the Tigers.
It didn’t take long that season for Darvin Adams to jump into the role and he would eventually establish himself as one of the most productive receivers in school history.
Making just three catches for 18 yards in his first season on the Plains in 2008, under Malzahn's guidance Adams became the first player in school history to have two years with more than 900 receiving yards. With 112 receptions in 2009-2010, Adams became Mr. Clutch for the Tigers’ offense.
Auburn now finds itself in a similar position after the loss of the dependable Emory Blake. While juniors Quan Bray and Trovon Reed have done a solid job as complementary receivers the last two years, that’s about it for receiving production at the position. Fellow junior Jaylon Denson and sophomores Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis also return with game experience.
Very familiar with the history of the position at Auburn and last season at Arkansas State, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said the Tigers are looking to see which player or players comes to the front of the line once the games get underway.
“There are some guys, but I'd hesitate to say anything because at this time that year we wouldn't have said Darvin,” Lashlee said about who is the most likely go-to guy in 2013.
“Darvin had had like two or three catches or something like that so somebody is going to have to step up," the offensive coordinator said. "I hope it's a couple of guys. Last year our leading receiver (at Arkansas State) was a redshirt freshman (J.D. McKissic) and he had 103 catches and he didn't even play the year before. He would probably have been your third or fourth choice going into the season, not that the other guys didn't play well. It was just the way it all worked out.”
“We've never really tried to make a guy be that guy,” he added. “We try to play to our guys' strengths and it usually works itself out. I would say there are three or four guys right now that I would have expectations of and hope they have a big year...I'm expecting a lot out of Quan Bray and Jaylon Denson and it's time for Sammie Coates. He's been here a little bit now. It's time for him to grow up and make plays, and I think he will.
"Ricardo Louis is another one that we're going to bring along. I think Coach (Dameyune) Craig has done a really good job with that whole room of bringing them along, not only making plays and all, but mentally with their confidence.”
Catching just three passes for 36 yards last season as a true freshman, Louis has continued to make strides at wide receiver after making the transition from high school quarterback. A dynamic player with the ball in his hands, Lashlee said the coaches expecting much bigger things this season from the sophomore as he continues to gain much needed experience.
“He's one of those guys that can be very special,” Lashlee said. “He's still young. This is going to be his second true year to be here and to be playing and he didn't play a whole lot last year. He has a lot of ability and there are times he makes some plays and you just got wow. There's no doubt. We'd like him to do that consistently.”
Another former high school quarterback making noise this preseason for the Tigers has been true freshman Marcus Davis. An addition to the class following the hiring of Craig, Davis has caught the eye of not only his coaching staff, but also teammates such as Bray.
“I’ve seen him come in with a mentality that he’s young, but he’s definitely ready to play because he’s a baller,” Bray said. “Coach Malzahn said it, he’s a natural all the time.”
Lashlee agreed with Bray, saying Davis just finds a way to get the job done and that should put him on the field early in his college career.
“He just does all the little things,” Lashlee said. “First of all, I think playing quarterback probably helped him because he came in you could tell he wasn't in the moment of, 'hey, I'm in college and these guys are bigger and faster.' He's been steady. I'm not going to say he's made a lot of wow plays, although he's made a few.
“He's just been steady and he's worked hard, he's listened and he's tried to do everything the coaches say. All the little things we ask our guys to do, he does. The bottom line is they just keep showing up. The guys who keep showing up practice after practice, whether it's little things or big things are the ones who stand out. When you're a freshmen you kind of have to do that to stand out and he's done that steadily through camp.”
Marcus Davis has been a playmaker for the Tigers this preseason.
In addition to that group Lashlee said that walk-on Melvin Ray and former walk-on Dimitri Reese are two players who could see action as well when the Tigers kick off the season Saturday night against Washington State at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. CDT and can be seen on ESPNU.