A Football Look Ahead
What Will Auburn’s Playing Rotation Look Like in 2020?
War Eagle, everybody! National signing day has come and gone once again, and Auburn’s roster for the season is now close to being set. In addition, this morning Auburn announced the hiring of Al Pogue as a defensive backs coach, so we now have a good idea who the on-the-field coaches will be as well.
Pogue comes to Auburn from West Virginia but has been on head coach Gus Malzahn’s staff before as an off-the-field analyst. Pogue coached defensive backs for Neal Brown at Troy during a very successful run in the mid teens and followed Brown to West Virginia in 2019. Pogue’s defensive backs have had high ratings. He has a ton of Alabama connections and should be a strong recruiter.
What will follow here is pure speculation, of course, especially on the offensive side of the ball where Auburn has new line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr. and new offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Morris has been given full control of the offense, or so we have been told. We’ve heard that sort of thing before. There is plenty of room for new players to step up as Auburn lost 7 starters on defense, 6 starters on offense, a punter and a kick returner.
At defensive tackle, starter Tyrone Truesdale returns for his senior season. The most veteran of the returning guys would be junior Coyniss Miller and senior Daquan Newkirk. Beyond that, Auburn has a lot of youth and lots of uncertainty as tp whether guys will play inside or outside. You can’t replace a guy like Derrick Brown, but there is enough talent in this group to continue playing a style where linemen rotate. A strong group of freshmen signed this season, and I expect several of them will play.
Defensive end is more worrisome. Auburn’s most veteran returnees are somewhat undersized. Senior Big Kat Bryant is the favorite on the strong side, and he’s listed at 247 pounds. Sophomore Derrick Hall and senior T. D. Moultry will do battle on the buck side, and they are listed at 230 and 240, respectively. Auburn has better size coming up from the scout team and signing day, but experience is lacking and will have to come.
Auburn returns everyone from the linebacking corps. I would expect senior Kenny Britt and sophomore Owen Pappoe to hold their starting jobs and be even better this coming season. There is veteran depth with Chandler Wooten and Zakoby McClain returning, as well. Newcomers will have a hard time breaking into this rotation.
I am least certain about the secondary, and I expect a lot of moving around and experimenting this spring. The only returning starter is junior Christian Tutt at nickelback, and frankly he was a guy that passers tried to pick on last season. He could move to corner. I figure that junior Roger McCreary is the most veteran corner returning, and he will likely lock down one starting spot. Jordyn Peters has playing time, and I have heard good things about sophomore Nehemiah Pritchett as a taller, long-armed corner. I figure that juniors Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood will step seamlessly into starting roles in 2020. Junior Malcolm Askew has a bit of experience, but the rest of the depth will come from untested freshmen.
With the sudden departure of punter Arryn Siposs, Auburn had only sophomore Patrick Markwalter left on the roster. Auburn is bringing in Evan McGuire as a preferred walk-on, but I would not be surprised to see the Tigers try to sign another punter from the transfer portal.
I figure that Christian Tutt will remain as the punt returner. Last season, Tutt had a couple of costly muffs but more often picked up big chunks of field position. Kick returner is wide open. Auburn’s speediest guys on the team are juniors Anthony Schwartz and Shaun Shivers, and they are running track this spring. Kicker is set with junior Anders Carlson returning.
Auburn has struggled on the offensive line the past couple of seasons and now loses 4 starters. Junior Nick Brahms returns at center and appears poised to have a breakout season. Beyond that, I’d expect some folks to move around. My guess on guards would be junior Tashawn Manning on one side and a battle between sophomore Jalil Irvin and redshirt freshman Keiondre Jones for the other spot. Junior Brodarious Hamm should be able to do well at the right tackle spot. He’s been called the strongest player on the team, and players and coaches on the defensive side were wondering why he wasn’t a starter last season.
The money position on the offensive line is left tackle, and Auburn certainly has major questions, here. Junior Austin Troxell would be the starter on paper, but he is coming off multiple knee injuries, and it is unknown how healthy he’ll be come spring ball. I suppose junior Alec Jackson would be the next man up. Auburn signed junior Kilian Zierer with the idea that he might start immediately, but he had a torn ACL last November and might not be recovered. JUCO transfer Brenden Coffey could be a really good possibility, but he does not arrive till summer.
At tight end/H-back, Auburn has some experience returning with junior John Samuel Schenker and sophomores Tyler Fromm and Luke Deal. Malik Miller has been mentioned as a possibility to move from running back as has Harold Joiner. Also, Auburn signed a pair of excellent tight ends in Jeremiah Pegues and Brandon Frazier. The signees won’t arrive till summer, but both will likely play.
At wide receiver, it is a given that junior Seth Williams will start at split end. I would guess that taking departed Sal Cannella’s “big flanker” spot would be junior Shedrick Jackson, who got more and more playing time late in the season. At the speed/slot receiver spot Auburn gets Eli Stove back for one last season. Anthony Schwartz will likely play here as well. One of the big concerns last season was a true freshman quarterback having to win the job and then gel with the receiving corps, most of whom were recovering from injuries. Chemistry was a big problem last season. Auburn has some talented receivers behind the likely starters who will get a chance to shine this spring, and the Tigers signed a solid receiver group as well.
Auburn lost starting running back JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow to the transfer portal this week but still has a lot of options to choose from. Sophomore D. J. Williams was used as an every-down back at times last season, and junior Shaun Shivers was a change-of-pace back. Sophomore Harold Joiner has shown flashes, especially in the receiving game, and offensive coordinator Chad Morris is known for passes to the running backs. Malik Miller returns for his senior year as the “big man” in the backfield. Auburn signed Tank Bigsby, who is said to be a home run-type back, and he will go through spring drills.
Auburn is set at quarterback with sophomore Bo Nix, and it will be fun to watch him progress this season. Behind Nix will likely be some competition. Sophomore Cord Sandberg returns, but he will likely be challenged by newcomer Chayil Garnett, an early enrollee. Auburn is also bringing in Sawyer Pate as a preferred walkon. Auburn coaches are hoping to develop at least one of the backups into a quarterback the team could win with should something happen to Nix.