Marquis McClain is an imposing figure.
When the 6-foot-2, 208-pounder breaks the huddle, he doesn’t much resemble a wide receiver.
“If you ever see him he literally looks like a linebacker,” Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said in December. “He’s cut, he’s huge.”
McClain redshirted this season, but looked ready to start contributing during the team’s practices for the Sugar Bowl. First-year players were given extra reps in what amounted to a mini-fall camp.
"Marquis is very talented young man,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. “They've been talking about him all year on the scout team making plays and doing a super job. He's one of those guys that made some plays as soon as we put the ball down for the three or four days that we did. There's no doubt he'll be a guy that helps us for the future.”
While Auburn is thin at the tight end position, Malzahn isn’t rushing to have McClain switch positions.
"I'm not ready to say that right now,” Malzahn said of putting McClain at tight end. “He's a big guy. He can really run and good vertical, good athlete.”
Fellow wide receiver Marcus Davis noticed McClain’s athleticism during informal workouts before fall camp.
“I think he's been the biggest surprise to me just working with him and the quarterbacks and everything because he's a bigger guy and I didn't expect him to move how he's been moving and running and getting in and out of cuts,” Davis said in August. “I think he's a guy to definitely keep an eye on.”
Another reason for Malzahn’s reluctance is Auburn’s lack of production at receiver for a second straight season.
Tony Stevens was the Tigers’ only receiver with more than 30 catches this year, but no one had more than 500 total yards. Stevens is graduating along with Davis.
Two true freshman — Kyle Davis and Eli Stove — made key contributions, but the depth chart will be wide open when the team opens spring camp in March.
“Once he gets playing physical and gets a couple of snaps under his belt playing at our level he could be a guy that makes some noise,” Johnson said.
The biggest hurdle McClain faced this season was learning the offense, an obstacle a full year in the program should help him overcome.
“It's just about developing him and understanding the offense, understanding the plays and that way they can look like they were in high school,” Auburn receivers coach Kodi Burns said before the season. “Until they get that down and understand how we do things, they'll still kind of be robotic. Once he understands the offense and how we do things, he can be Marquis McClain.”