With Spring practice officially complete, the Auburn Tigers will shift their focus to weight and conditioning programs as they prepare for the season-opener in Dallas on Aug.31 against Oregon.
Every year, a few players appear to separate themselves from the pack in the race to carve out a larger role for the upcoming season. Year-to-year improvement is expected but certain Tigers on both sides of the ball have impressed coaches during spring practice. As is the case every year, players from the previous season graduate or turn pro. With that comes players who take advantage and as a result, prepare to replace those who have left the program.
For the first time in nearly a decade, Auburn failed to produce at least one 1,000-yard rusher in 2018. Last year, then redshirt freshman JaTarvious “Boobee” Whitlow led the team with 787 yards on 150 carries (5.2 yards per carry), and while the lack of run game is not solely the fault of the Tigers' stable of running backs, that facet of the offense was a major letdown for a program that has made its mark in recent years by running the ball down teams' throats.
DJ Williams, a true freshman from Lake Placid, Florida, has quickly impressed coaches and fellow players with his tremendous ability. A late riser in the 2019 recruiting rankings, Williams committed to Auburn in December of 2018. Since he arrived on The Plains in January, Williams has proved he is ready to make an impact as a true freshman.
On A-Day, Williams rushed for 59 yards on 11 carries, both of which led all rushers. A 29-yard rush in the first quarter emphasized that Williams has the chance to be special.
“I knew he would be when he came in, because Auburn don’t just recruit anybody,” fellow running back Kam Martin said.
And while the Tigers will field senior Kam Martin, redshirt sophomore JaTarvious Whitlow and sophomore Shaun Shivers, all of whom have more established roles in the backfield, Williams’ talent may be too enticing for Gus Malzahn and his staff to leave the true freshman on the sideline. They'll likely find a way for the freshman to make an impact.
Senior Javaris Davis and junior Noah Igbinogene are expected to be cornerbacks No. 1 and 2 for this upcoming season. However, with Jamel Dean taking his talents to the NFL, the Tigers need someone to step up and become No. 3 for a unit that allowed the seventh most passing yards per game in the SEC last season.
McCreary, a sophomore out of Mobile, played in seven games as a freshman, totaling five tackles and one pass deflection. In 2019, the 6-foot, 188-pound cornerback will likely have a much larger role.
McCreary has lined up with the first-team defense during spring practice and has caught the eye of Malzahn.
"Roger’s another one of those freshmen (from last year) that looks completely different,” Malzahn said. “You can tell he’s more confident. He’s off to a really good start. I’ve been with the offense mainly the whole time, but when a guy flashes and stands out, that means he’s doing a really good job.”
Playing with second team defense on A-Day, McCreary registered two tackles, two pass breakups and one QB hurry.
Auburn’s top-ranked receiver in the class of 2018 wasn’t speedster Anthony Schwartz or the uber-talented Seth Williams — it was 6-foot-1 Lawrenceville, Georgia native Matthew Hill.
“We’re going to be the best receiving corps in the nation … forget Clemson and forget Alabama, we’re going to make some plays,” Hill said after A-Day.
In the A-Day game, Hill was perhaps the most impressive player on the field, with five catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns. A 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter and a 49-yard score in fourth may have cemented a role for a player who coaches and teammates have been raving about all spring.
The Tigers lost receivers Darius Slayton and Ryan Davis from last year, but the returning corps of Hill, sophomores Williams and Schwartz as well as veterans Eli Stove and Will Hastings should make for one of the best Auburn receiving groups in recent memory
The 2019 Auburn defensive line group is overflowing with talent. With Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe all returning for another season on The Plains, it’d be hard for a backup to find a solid role.
Junior T.D. Moultry certainly doesn’t want to hear that. Sporting the same number as former Auburn pass rusher Carl Lawson (No. 55), Moultry will look to follow in Lawson’s footsteps and excel as someone with a knack for getting in the backfield.
Playing behind fellow junior Coe at the “Buck” position in 2018, Moultry appeared in all 13 games for the Tigers and registered 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
On A-Day, Moultry continued his great spring as he finished the game with three tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and one QB hurry.
“He’s a heck of an athlete. He’s fast off the edge and he’s strong. He’s not a big, big guy, but when he gets his arms on you, he’s strong. If he can come on this year, and I have no doubt he will, there is so much potential for him to be an unbelievable player for a long time,” said senior offensive lineman Jack Driscoll.
With two seasons under his belt, Moultry will look to use his strong spring to catapult himself into a large role in an already stacked Auburn defensive line group.