July 22, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — The world knows of Gus Malzahn's record-breaking quarterbacks and their gaudy stats, but don't forget somebody has to catch all of their passes.
Malzahn has turned true freshmen and relative unknowns into statistical receiving stars, and will be looking through his roster to do it again at Auburn this season. He'll choose from newcomers and from experience as he looks to replace Emory Blake, who led the Tigers in catches the last two years.
Sound familiar? It should. He's seen three freshmen each have more than a 1,000-yard receiving. His offense turned Darvin Adams into one of the top receivers at Auburn and in the SEC in 2009 in no time flat.
"We've got to have somebody step up and be that go-to guy who wants the ball on third down, who wants the ball when the game is in on the line," Malzahn said. "This spring, we tried to put them in different situations. All guys responded, but somebody has to emerge. "
Malzahn has found willing replacements for such a mission in his first year at schools.
Take 2009 when Malzahn first arrived at Auburn as the offensive coordinator. He needed a go-to receiver and found one in Adams, who had three catches the year before he arrived, and had 60 catches for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns the first year they were together.
Take Malzahn's first year at Tulsa. Freshman Trae Johnson caught 70 passes for 1,088 yards and 13 TDs. Fellow freshman and all-purpose player Charles Clay caught 69 passes for 1,024 yards and seven TDs. Malzahn's next year at Tulsa? Two different leading receivers.
Take last year at Arkansas State. Malzahn debuted as a head coach and he and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee found redshirt freshman J.D. McKissic, who would catch 103 passes for 1,022 yards and five touchdowns.
That brings Malzahn to Auburn 2013. Blake had 50 catches last season and they're all gone. The leading returning wide receivers and slot receivers are Quan Bray, who had 14 catches; Trovon Reed, who had nine; Sammie Coates, who had six, Ricardo Louis, who had three and Jaylon Denson, who had one.
The for-sure newcomers are Marcus Davis, Dominic Walker and Tony Stevens.
"It's really similar to 2009 when we got here," Lashlee said. "We didn't have a lot of catches when we came, and all Darvin did was break the school record for catches. We don't have much experience now, but we have some really athletic guys with good size."
Lashlee and receivers coach Dameyune Craig know what they need.
"We need Sammie Coates, we need Jaylon Denson, we need Ricardo and those guys to step up and make plays," Lashlee said. "Ricardo and Sammie are younger, but it's time to step up. You've got Jaylon, Quan, Trovon who have been here and they're all going to be juniors, and it's time for them to step up and begin making plays, too.
"It may be a deal where there's the no-doubt go-to guy. There's usually a position that kind of becomes that guy, but you want more than one guy making plays."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine