AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn said Tuesday that some personnel changes could be coming down the pike soon.
On Wednesday, Auburn's head coach proved he wasn't engaging in subterfuge, as the team released an updated two-deep depth chart with a few noteworthy alterations. The first had Nosa Eguae, the Tigers' most experienced defensive lineman, moving over to defensive tackle. The player he replaced, Angelo Blackson, was left off the depth chart entirely.
When asked about Blackson's absence — who has started all four games at defensive tackle this season — Malzahn downplayed its significance.
"Like we said, we had a chance in the off week to start evaluating things," he said following Wednesday's practice. "That's not to say that won't change, but that's the way we're starting out this game."
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Eguae, a senior, will make his 34th career start Saturday, but his first on the inside. Up to this point, he has spent his entire career at defensive end, which spans 43 games.
Despite Eguae's lack of playing time at tackle, Malzahn wasn't worried.
"He's a veteran guy," Malzahn said. "He's played a lot of snaps. He was one of the few guys from our 2010 championship team that played, so he's an experienced guy and he's a guy that you can count on."
Two other depth chart surprises involved the Tigers' wide receivers. Both Ricardo Louis and Marcus Davis were left off the two-deep, even though the pair ranks second and third, respectively, in receptions this season. Freshman wideout Tony Stevens pushed his way into the discussion, being listed as a co-starter alongside Auburn's leader in catches and receiving yards this season, Sammie Coates.
Malzahn said Stevens has been held back due to nagging injuries this year, but is finally close to 100 percent.
"He’s a guy that we really feel like has a chance to be a really good receiver," Malzahn said. "He was banged-up in fall camp, which put him a little bit behind, but he’s a guy you’ll see more and more out there."
The only change to Auburn's starting offense came at the receiver position formerly held down by Jaylon Denson. With the junior receiver out for the remainder of the season to repair a torn patellar tendon in his knee, Brandon Fulse is now listed at the starter.
Auburn, Ole Miss experimenting with 'ones on ones'
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze thinks the fact his team and Auburn run similar offenses should help out the Rebels' defense on Saturday.
At least, that's his hope.
"You would think it would help," he said during his appearance on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday. "Typically when we're preparing, we do a good bit of scout team versus our offense and defense."
Freeze made changes to that preparation this week.
"We're going two considerable, long periods of 'us against us,' just so that we can hopefully mirror some of the things that they may see on Saturday night," he said.
Malzahn said his team hasn't necessarily done the same. While the Tigers don't exclusively have their No. 1 units against the scout team, Malzahn said it just depends on the coaching staff's game plan.
"Every week we do some one’s on one’s," he said. "Some weeks are more than others. We had a week last week to do a lot of one’s on one’s. That has to help a little bit."
After missing the past two games with an ankle injury, Chris Davis has been practicing all week. And according to Malzahn, the senior corner has also resumed his punt return duties.
Despite questions about Davis' durability, Malzahn said he had no qualms putting him back on the field.
"We just try to start fresh and not worry about in the past and all that and just try to put our guys in the best position to give us a chance to be successful," Malzahn said. "He's a senior. We have trust in him. I have trust in him. He's a tough guy."
Davis isn't the formerly-injured player to rejoin the team this week. Defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, cornerback Jonathan Jones and defensive end Craig Sanders are among the handful of players who have sat out in recent weeks but were able to suit up since Sunday.
Malzahn said it was easy to tell a difference in the team's energy at practice this week with the return of so many key pieces.
"From a coaching standpoint, the depth, that definitely helps you," he said. "I think our players’ competitiveness and everything that goes with that has to be a positive, too."