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March 27, 2013

The final Auburn positional battles to watch: Wide receivers, tight ends, H-backs

This is the final piece of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football, which begins Wednesday morning and concludes with A-Day April 20.

Auburn Vanderbilt Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Let’s play the blind taste test game.

Receiver A: 50 catches, 789 yards, 3 TD in all games; 38 rec, 556 yds, 2 TD in SEC games.

Receiver B: 39 catches, 527 yards, 3 TD in all games; 29 rec, 303 yds, 0 TD in SEC games.

Obviously, you want the first receiver.

Oh, one more hint: Receiver A was 6-foot-2, 193 pounds. Receiver B measures in at more than 42 feet and close to 1,400 pounds.

Emory Blake vs. every other Auburn receiver in 2012 was a complete mismatch.

And that’s a major reason the Tigers’ passing game was an inexcusable mess last year. It’s also a major reason Blake’s departure should be a warning bell to his younger teammates that it’s time to step up.

Blake isn’t the only veteran out the door. Philip Lutzenkirchen is one of the most accomplished tight ends in school history, but even he’s already endorsed his heir apparent, tweeting Monday “Look for (C.J. Uzomah) to have a great spring. The kid’s a beast but an even better person off the field. Much love to the little big brother” and “He could break every TE record in Gus (Malzahn’s) offense.”

Add the blocking ability of Brandon Fulse, and tight ends looks to be a somewhat secure position in 2012.

So is the new h-back in that aforementioned Malzahn offense. Jay Prosch has the brute strength and soft hands ideal to fit that role, moving over from fullback to a hybrid position.

Granted, the quarterbacks were far too inconsistent to help their receivers. But that’s a two-way street: those same wideouts didn’t exactly help the passers, so the sooner Dameyune Craig whips his youngsters into shape to match their potential, the better for the Tigers.

Alabama A&M vs Auburn

Check out our positional breakdowns entering spring football:

Part I: Defensive backs
Part II: Linebackers
Part III: Defensive line
Part IV: Special teams
Part V: Quarterbacks
Part VI: Offensive line
Part VII: Running backs

Here’s a look at Auburn’s wide receivers, tight ends and H-backs, leading into spring football practices:

Who’s been playing: WR Quan Bray (jr.), WR Sammie Coates (so.), TE Brandon Fulse (jr.), WR Ricardo Louis (so.), H-back Jay Prosch (sr.), WR Trovon Reed (jr.), TE C.J. Uzomah (jr.)

Who’s been waiting: WR Jaylon Denson (jr.), TE Chris Landrum (so.), TE Ricky Parks (r-fr.)

Who’s out the door: WR DeAngelo Benton, WR Emory Blake, FB Blake Burgess, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, WR Anthony Morgan, WR Travante Stallworth

Who’s in the door: WR Marcus Davis (Delray Beach, Fla.), WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.), Tony Stevens (Orlando, Fla.), WR Dominic Walker (Orlando, Fla.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: WRs – Dameyune Craig, 8th year (1st in SEC); TEs/H-backs – Scott Fountain, 13th year (1st in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where are they now: WRs – Trooper Taylor, unemployed; TEs – Jay Boulware, Oklahoma

Thoughts and musings:

The returning contributors – Quan Bray, Sammie Coates, Jaylon Denson, Ricardo Louis and Trovon Reed – had 33 catches, 378 yards and 3 TD last year. Funny thing is, Bray and Reed combined for 38 receptions by themselves as freshmen in 2011, so the ability is clearly there.

Bray and Louis are also being counted on – at least initially – to figure in at punt and kick returner. Reed has competed for those positions in the past, but it’d be wiser for the former five-star recruit to work on potentially starting at slot receiver

Coates was courageous enough (or dumb enough, pending your perspective) to call out the 2012 senior class for not leading the way it should have. He also agreed he’s willing to take on a leadership capacity. He can do it by shoring up his sure-handedness; he dropped some big balls last year that could have swung games.

Uzomah can play with his hand on the ground at tight end, or split out wide. He’s got the body and athleticism to do either. Don’t be surprised if he ends up Auburn’s leading receiver.

Prosch should get a chance to block, run and catch in this attack, so fans who grumbled about his limited playing time last fall should be acquiesced.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Statistically speaking:

9 – Games in which Emory Blake had more than two catches in 2012. Philip Lutzenkirchen did so twice, and Onterio McCalebb once.

3 – Games in which anybody else had more than two catches. One was a receiver (Quan Bray, six vs. Mississippi State), one was a tight end (C.J. Uzomah, three vs. Texas A&M) and one was a tailback (Tre Mason, three vs. Georgia).

13 – Receptions of 20-plus yards by Emory Blake.

11 – Receptions of 20-plus yards by every other returning player combined – led by Uzomah’s three, which were all against Texas A&M.

103, 1022 – Receptions and yards for J.D. McKissic, a freshman receiver (from Central-Phenix City) last year in Gus Malzahn’s and Rhett Lashlee’s only year at Arkansas State. The catches led all freshmen nationally (7th overall) and the yards were third among FBS rookies.

5-10, 185 – McKissic’s measurements.

5-10, 183 – Quan Bray’s measurements.

Quan Bray

Good Twitter follows: CJ Uzomah @CJUzomah81 (5,116 followers) offers the play-by-play from his day, which includes the goings-on with his roommate, Kiehl Frazier. Fan favorite Jay Prosch @DaRealJayProsch (3,278) quotes ‘Remember The Titans’ yet does not care for Band-Aids or ill-tempered ATMs.

Say what? “With receivers, sometimes you play two, three, four, so we have to create competition within that group to be the best player they can be individually to help each other out.” – Craig

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