When Gus Malzahn was talking about his early signees last December and again after the traditional football signing day in February, Auburn’s head coach made the point that he thought the Tigers had plenty of help on the way. Heading into the opener, he needs that to be the case.
For Saturday’s home game vs. the Kentucky Wildcats, 10 true freshmen are on the defensive depth chart. There are seven more on offense plus the new Aussie punter, Oscar Chapman, has a chance to start on special teams.
In addition to the true freshmen there are eight more new faces on the roster showing up on the depth chart including graduate transfers and signees from the junior college ranks.
One of those newcomers, 6-4, 325 grad transfer Brandon Council, goes into the opener number one on the depth chart at right offensive guard. A former starter at Akron, he is listed as a junior.
An interesting guy who can play both guard positions, both tackle spots as well as center if needed, the most interesting thing to watch about Council on Saturday is will he be good enough to consistently block defensive linemen facing the upgraded competition he will see in the Southeastern Conference?
Unlike last year when Bo Nix at quarterback and Owen Pappoe at linebacker started their first games as true freshmen, none of the true freshmen on the 2020 roster are at the top of the depth chart, but expect to see a good number of those guys on the field this year, even when games are on the line.
Offensively, look for running back Tank Bigsby, tight ends Brandon Frazier and J.J. Pegues plus wide receivers ZeVian Capers, Kobe Hudson and Elijah Canion to contribute early.
On the defensive front four we should see talented true freshmen Zykevious Walker on the field contributing early this season. Walker can play both tackle and end and is listed as a second stringer as is Chris Thompson at safety.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner likes to play his reserves extensively so that means that third stringers Jay Hardy and Daniel Foster-Allen are two more freshmen who will have a chance to play as the Tigers begin their 10-game all-conference contests schedule.
Another true freshmen defender to watch this year is Ladarius Tennison, who has shown promise at the nickel/star position.
Among the non-freshmen newcomers, graduate transfer Grant Loy has an important role as the top backup to Nix. He has a strong arm and collegiate starting experience at Bowling Green.
A pair of junior college defensive tackles, Marquis Burks and Dre Butler, are players the Tigers need to get early contributions from as they rebuild a front four missing three guys with starting experience from 2019, including a pair of All-Americans.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter