Opening Presents Early.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Opening Presents Early.


Does Joey Gatewood remind you of anyone?

     War Eagle, everybody! What a strange week this has been. Normally while we are scrambling around, getting ready for Christmas, we might see a blurb or two out of Auburn, highlighting this or that young player from bowl practice, that might make an impact in the future. Instead, this week we have had a nearly full-blown national signing day bonanza! Auburn had 15 of 20 commits sign this week, which means this year’s class is at least 60 percent complete.

     We’ve yet to fully digest the whole impact of the early signing process implemented this year. My initial take on it is that it’s good for players, and tough on coaches. I can remember a decade ago, when we would read about Tommy Tuberville taking hunting trips, around this time of year. Coaches these days had to really hit the recruiting trail hard. After this week, coaches can double down on the remaining unsigned prospects out there. With letters of intent in hand, there is no worry about commits “flipping.” This benefits particularly the upper-echelon schools, who were able to go get their guys early. At schools that have a tougher time recruiting, they have their work cut out from this point.

     One real worry about the early signing period is coaches spending more time on the road campaigning, and less time at bowl practice. If this year’s early bowls are any indication, we are seeing a LOT more offense and sloppy play than in years past. As of right now, 7 bowls have been played, and we’ve seen Troy, Florida Atlantic and Louisiana Tech all put up 50 points or more in runaway affairs.

     We really never know how a recruiting class will turn out, till several years down the road. A pessimist will look at the 15 signees Auburn picked up this week, and note that there is not a single 5-star recruit in the bunch. I don’t know if this is all that worrisome. I’m sure a 5-star recruit isn’t that worried about finding a school that wants him, and can afford to wait till February. Kids with fewer stars? The pressure might have been on to sign early, and secure a spot for sure.

     I view the whole recruiting season with about the same enthusiasm I’d have for a broken limb or a root canal. However, this is where coaches succeed or fail, ultimately. You can’t win without good players. After the jump, I’ll do a bit of speculation on how Auburn helped themselves in this class, at each position group. It’s doubly difficult prognosticating, here on Christmas week. We don’t know at this time which Auburn players might be leaving early for the NFL.

     Over the past 5 seasons, Auburn has really built up a deep and powerful defensive line. The good news is that there are no seniors in the playing rotation this season, and Auburn could well bring everyone back next season. I would guess that Jeff Holland would be pretty highly drafted if he left early, and would be the likeliest to go. Auburn has signed a couple of defensive linemen, Kayode Oladele as a defensive end, and Daquan Newkirk out of junior college. Both will have a tough time cracking a monster playing rotation early, but Newkirk in particular might have a shot in pass rush circumstances, as a very quick defensive tackle.

     Auburn only loses 1 linebacker in the playing rotation to graduation, but it’s a big one. Tre’ Williams is done, after the bowl game. Auburn has built up sufficient depth that this won’t be too big of an issue. Auburn signed linebackers Josh Marsh, Michael Harris and Zakoby McClain this week. McClain was the highest rated, but there are a lot of established players ahead of this group.

     There are 2 position groups I’m really worried about, next season, and the secondary is one of them. Auburn loses 3 of the top 4 safeties to graduation, and junior cornerback Carlton Davis would be a lock to be drafted, if he left early. I figure Daniel Thomas will move into 1 safety spot next season, but after that, competition is wide open. Auburn signed Christian Tutt, and Jamien Sherwood in the secondary. Tutt is a lanky cornerback, while Sherwood is a ball-hawking safety. I’d guess that both have a great chance to play early.

     On special teams, Auburn’s major losses to graduation are kicker Daniel Carlson and punt returner Stephen Roberts, as well as holder Tyler Stovall. Auburn did not sign any particular special teams stalwart, but Australian punter Arryn Siposs remains a hard commit. I’m fairly certain that redshirt freshman Anders Carlson will step in as another top-notch placekicker, next season.

     Auburn’s offensive line takes a beating on graduation, with seniors Braden Smith, Darius James, Austin Golson and Casey Dunn all leaving the starting lineup. That leaves Prince Tega Wanagho, Marquel Harrell, and Mike Horton as the most experienced linemen. Auburn signed Jalil Irvin at guard, and Kameron Stutts at tackle, this week. Stutts is a big dude, listed at 329 pounds.

     At H-back, Chandler Cox could probably be drafted if he left early for the NFL, but I expect that he’ll be back. Auburn returns everyone that played significant minutes at both tight end and H-back. This is usually an area of concern for me every year, but I’m very optimistic about this group with another year of conditioning and training. It’s a good thing, too, as Auburn did not sign any additions to this group.

     Likewise, Auburn loses no one to graduation, at wide receiver. The only juniors on this unit were Ryan Davis and Will Hastings. Early in the season, these guys were a comedy of dropped balls. At season’s end, they were scary dangerous. I look forward to this group starting at a high level, next season. With this week’s signing group, Auburn added Seth Williams, and Shedrick Jackson to the group. It will be tough for either to crack the playing rotation, initially.

     At tailback, Auburn loses no seniors this season, either. However, it has been speculated that either Kerryon Johnson or Kamryn Pettway might leave after this season. Both have struggled with injuries, and it might be time to go ahead and take that NFL money, at a position where longevity doesn’t really happen very often. On the other hand, either guy could be a Heisman candidate with a healthy senior season next year. Auburn signed more runners this week, although some of them likely will be moved to other positions. Names include Asa Martin, and Shaun Shivers.

     In the past couple of years, a lot of quarterbacks have left Auburn, but last year’s guys who played, Jarrett Stidham, Malik Willis and Devan Adams all return. For the future, Auburn signed Joey Gatewood, pictured above. He wears number 2, and has already been compared to Cam Newton, as unfair as that might be. Gatewood will have time to develop behind a skilled group ahead of him.

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