AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s spring practice comes to a close on Saturday, when the team will hold its annual A-Day game in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Barring an unforeseen chain of events occurring in the two practices before Saturday arrives, the Tigers will enter the fall still figuring out what to do at the H-back position. It was a spot they never had to worry about last season, as punishing blocker Jay Prosch appeared in all 14 games (including 11 starts) and was a key cog in helping the Tigers own the top-ranked rushing attack in the country.
As they have looked for his replacement this spring, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said there have been “ups and downs” among the trio gunning for the job: Brandon Fulse, Gage Batten and C.J. Uzomah.
“Fulse has got the ability to be physical. He’s got the size that you need,” Lashlee said. “He just hasn’t had the reps at that position. He played more either tight end or split out last year for us based on what our needs were.”
The same goes for Uzomah, the expected starter at tight end next season.
“You got a guy like C.J. who’s very versatile whether he’s playing out at receiver, playing tight end, (or) playing back there (at H-back),” Lashlee said. “He has done some good things.”
Then there is Batten, who bears a striking resemblance to Prosch in both mentality (block-first) and size (each stand 6-foot, though Prosch has 26 pounds on Batten, 258-232).
Another player getting reps at tight end and H-back is Chris Laye, a true freshman who enrolled this semester. While not expected to challenge for a starting job this season, Lashlee likes what he’s seen from Laye thus far.
“We feel really good about who Chris Laye was when we recruited him. We think he showed up and he’s what he thought he is going to be. He’s like Stanton (Truitt, another early enrollee) — he should be in high school today,” Lashlee said. “He came early, so he’s still young but he’s getting reps too at the tight end and H-back spots which is really valuable for him. He’s going to be light years ahead of where he’d have been if he had waited until the summer to come in. We feel really good about him down the road.”
In the immediate future, the coaching staff is still looking for more out of Fulse, Uzomah and Batten. While each member of the group has done well this spring, the problem for the coaching staff is they excel in different areas, making it harder to compare.
“They all do something better than the other,” Lashlee said. “Brandon may be a little better with this whereas C.J.’s a little better with this and then Gage is with this. Jay was pretty much the whole package, so we just got to keep working those guys. The biggest thing for them is they need reps and (they need to be) physical because that’s a glue potion for us. So we need those guys to step up.”