Wideouts Forced To Step Up With Denson Out

Tony Stevens

A likely season-ending injury to Jaylon Denson means players such as freshman Tony Stevens will be counted on more by the Auburn offense.

Auburn, Ala.--It was a tough night for the Auburn Tigers on Saturday in Baton Rouge. Not only did Gus Malzahn's team drop its first game of the season, but also lost one of its top wide receivers in the process.

Injured on Auburn's first drive of the game when his knee gave way as he tried to plant on the wet turf at Tiger Stadium, junior Jaylon Denson is likely lost for the season said Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

"That's a big loss for us," Lashlee said. "He's a guy that's really been the leader for us, plays a lot of snaps, does a lot of things that maybe people don't see and that's just going to give guys another opportunity to step up.

"You know, we lost him the other night, that hurt just from not having him there, but I do think the guys got in there and stepped up and did a nice job, so moving forward guys are just going to have to pick up the slack."

With just three receptions for 45 yards this season, Denson hasn't been a huge target for quarterback Nick Marshall through four games, but he did a good job doing the dirty work such as blocking on the perimeter and being physical. A dependable receiver that the Tigers could depend on, Lashlee said Denson's loss means it's time for someone else to step up and help Sammie Coates carry the load.

"We've got some other guys," Lashlee said. "Sammie has been the one making plays right now. I think he's got confidence, but we've got other guys. We know Ricardo (Louis) can run. I think Tony Stevens is a guy that is long and can run. C.J. (Uzomah) has made a lot of intermediate catches. I know he didn't have many last night, but against Mississippi State he made a lot of big plays."

Having five different receivers with at least five receptions so far this season, Auburn has done a good job of spreading the ball around to this point. There is little doubt however that Coates has become a big-play threat and a more consistent receiver under the new coaching staff. With 11 catches for 306 yards and a touchdown this year, Coates is coming off a monster game at LSU when he had four grabs for 139 yards against the Tigers.

As to why Coates has responded and become the top guy for Auburn at the moment, Lashlee said it's just a combination of things for the Leroy native that have now fallen into place.

"Coach (Dameyune) Craig has done a great job," Lashlee said. "He's confident. He believes more and more every day -- he came in more confident. He worked so hard this summer and then at the same time, when you go out and make a few plays, that's about the best thing you can do for your confidence. There's still plenty of things he can work on and he knows that. But man, he's really getting better each week.

"I think the next thing is just playing experience. He's not a guy who has played a lot of ball and caught a lot of footballs in big, meaningful games. So the more and more experience he gets -- just like a Ricardo Louis and all those guys -- the better and better we think they'll get."

Experience is something that should also help out Auburn's pair of true freshmen as they will likely be counted on even more in the coming weeks for the Tigers. Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens each caught two passes against LSU for 21 yards and Davis is currently third on the team with 10 total receptions. Lashlee said both have done some good things to this point and he's expecting even more down the road.

"Tony is a guy, like we've said before, he missed a lot of time in camp, but we've been bringing him along and he had more of an involvement in the game plan," Lashlee said. "He had a couple of catches and that's going to increase. Now we've got two weeks to really get him more reps and we really think he's going to be in the rotation. He and Marcus Davis are two guys that we feel like can help us now and I expect bigger things from Tony moving forward."

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