A major theme for the Auburn Tigers this offseason was change, with significant changes being seen throughout the team, notably at the wide receiver position.
After Eli Stove, Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams all declared to leave for the NFL, the Tigers were left with a significant hole in the roster. The trio had combined for 145 receptions, 10 touchdowns and nearly 1,800 receiving yards.
With a young group of receivers, Auburn coach Bryan Harsin went with experience when the Tigers released their two-deep depth chart ahead of their matchup with Akron. Senior Shedrick Jackson, grad transfer Demetris Robertson and sophomore Ja’Varrius Johnson were all listed as starters. The trio are the oldest receivers on the roster besides Caylin Newton, who switched to receiver after transferring from Howard.
“Our receiver group is great — ball skills, a lot of speed as I can see," Robertson said. "A lot of mature, young guys as well. I feel like this group is going to shock a lot of people as the season goes along.”
Robertson has the most experience by far, starting his collegiate career at California for two years and then spending another two years at Georgia before coming to the Plains. The former five-star recruit was a starter as a freshman at Cal in 2016, where he recorded 50 catches for 767 yards and seven touchdowns. Following an injury in 2017, Robertson transferred to Georgia, where he added 42 catches for 443 yards and three scores over three seasons. A late transfer in the summer sent the Savannah, Georgia native to The Plains where he secured a starting job in the offseason.
“(My role is) to be a leader for the younger guys,” Robertson said, “to be consistent and show them the ropes. How to practice, how to play games and also just being a reliable person on special teams and off the field as well.”
Robertson also is already looking forward to an early-October matchup with his former team.
“Oh, it's going to be fun (to play Georgia),” Robertson said. “It’s fun to play against my old teammates. Still my friends, still my boys, also playing against my old coaches. It's gonna be a great game, a great atmosphere and I can't wait to compete."
Jackson is in his fourth season with Auburn and hadn’t seen the field much before playing Akron. The senior from Hoover had 10 career catches for 130 yards entering last Saturday’s matchup, with his only score being a two-point conversion reception in the 2019 Iron Bowl. He would tack on five catches for 79 yards against Akron.
“Just learning the ins and outs of it (has been a big key to the offense),” Jackson said after the game Saturday, “trying to know every position and every concept. Not just knowing what route I have at my position, but just knowing that everybody has to see the field the way a quarterback does.”
Johnson is the youngest starting receiver on Harsin’s squad, having little experience at the collegiate level. After struggling with injuries his freshman year in 2019, the Trussville native had a hard time breaking onto the depth chart in 2020, appearing in only one game. Johnson broke out in the spring, taking advantage of the opportunity of an open position with the coaching change. Harsin called the sophomore the most consistent receiver in the Tigers' wide receiver unit.
“He comes out every day, he works hard, he knows what to do,” Harsin said. “I’ve seen him make some really good catches in practice. He’s working on special teams and some things in those areas, but I like the consistency.”
With this weekend’s matchup against Alabama State giving another opportunity for the Tigers to find what works for them, look for more receivers to get in the mix, including freshman Tar’Varish Dawson Jr., who missed last week’s game. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.