Dameyune Craig is playing tough in preseason practice at Auburn
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — It hasn't been the easiest of summers for Dameyune Craig.
First, the Auburn receivers coach blew out his Achilles. Then, he got sick. Then, he had to explain it all to his players.
"I told them that I'm the only coach in America out here with a stomach virus and a torn Achilles in 98-degree heat," Craig said. "That's the mentality. That's Auburn football. I didn't want to miss a beat.
"I want them to see the toughness I bring to the table and the commitment I have for this team and the fans."
Craig has been limping about at practice, but there's one thing that has made him feel a lot better: An improving receiver corps that will feature big targets in junior Sammie Coates and junior college transfer Duke Williams.
"They can go down as two of the best to ever play at Auburn if they can continue to make strides and affect the game," Craig said. "I've been truly blessed. God put his hand on me to be around these guys, not only Sammie and Duke, but the entire receivers."
The receivers run deep, Craig said. "When they go out to practice, you're actually practicing NFL guys now, and it shows."
Coates, who averaged 21.5 yards per catch on the way to his team-best 42 catches last season, and Williams, who was rated the No. 1 junior college player in the country last season, bring speed and size to the game. Craig says opponents have to worry about Coates.
"You have to account for him. He's the first person. You really have to say, 'We have to stop 18 first,'" Craig said.
But then Craig said you have to worry about Auburn's other receivers, too, and Williams is the new high-profile threat.
"I told him before the start of fall camp: 'Don't worry about what everyone says. Just be yourself. Don't think about what you're supposed to do; how many catches you're supposed to have. Just go out and play the game and everything will take care of itself.' He's done that. He's been dominating in practice. He's a hard guy to cover, a very hard guy to cover, because he's big and physical and can run.
"Sammie has proven he can stretch the field. Now, he's a better route runner."
They are, among other things, long-ball threats.
Craig likes his other receivers, too, like Quan Bray, like slot guy Marcus Davis, a former high school quarterback who had 23 catches last season.
"He had a bunch of huge catches last year. He's really mastered the slot now," Craig said.
Ricardo Louis? He's the guy who caught the Prayer in Jordan-Hare, but wants fans to realize he's got more game than that. His 28 catches last year says that.
"He's a guy we can move around if we wanted to, to different spots and have different matchups," Craig said. "He's tremendous with the ball in his hands. He's very strong. Ricardo focused on catching the football this offseason. He did a lot of work on his own. A lot of footwork drills. He's quicker. He's down about eight pounds, to about 210."
Jaylon Denson, a receiver who doesn't mind being a down-field blocker, is coming back from a knee injury that limited him to four games last season.
"He's done a great job," Craig said, "but I don't want Jaylon to rush himself. He's further along than I thought he'd be.
"He still brings a physical presence to the table. He's shown, maybe, more quickness than before he left. He's shown some flashes since he's been back. In the next month or so, I think he'll be back to 100 percent."
Others will vie for playing time as Auburn tries to deliver on its promised renew interest in passing.
"These guys have really put in some work. I think we've created some competition between each other," Craig said. "They want to compete against each other and are very supportive. It's definitely helped the room."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine