AUBURN, Ala. — The "curse" of being on the cover of the Madden NFL game. Winning the Par 3 contest at The Masters. And being named a most valuable player at Auburn's A-Day game.
All three, apparently, are harbingers of bad news for the recipient of each. It was Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee that referenced the run of bad luck that has often befallen the player who has graced the cover of the Madden games, be it an injury in that subsequent season or an underachieving campaign by the player or his team. Lashlee also noted the futility of the Par 3 winner at Augusta National; never has the player who captured the light-hearted Wednesday affair gone on to drape the green jacket around his shoulders on Sunday.
What led to Lashlee bringing up these tortured topics?
He was asked whether people should expect receiver Myron Burton to make a difference next season. After redshirting last year, Burton had a breakout performance last Saturday, bringing home the offensive MVP award after catching seven passes for 124 yards and a touchdown.
In a bit of irony, however, it's not the offensive MVPs in Gus Malzahn's tenure that have disappeared once the fall rolls around. Perhaps you've heard of the last two offensive MVPs: Cameron Artis-Payne (2013) and Nick Marshall (2014).
Instead, it's the defenders who have excelled during the annual spring instrasquad tussle that have underwhelmed when it's time for the regular season
Justin Garrett, who won it in 2013, seemed primed to take his game to the next level. Yet it simply hasn't happened, mainly due to the plethora of seemingly endless injuries (mostly to his feet) that have prevented him from being in tip-top shape the past two seasons. Linebacker Kenny Flowers, who earned MVP honors last year, doesn't have quite the same excuse. The coaching staff just didn't trust him enough to give him significant playing time last year; though he appeared in every game, he finished with just five tackles.
But given the lack of able bodies defensively, maybe Flowers' play last Saturday will help: his seven tackles tied for the team-high along with walk-on corner Michael Sherwood and fellow linebacker Cameron Toney.
Yes, read over those three names again: a pair of career backups and a walk-on played extensively last week. Which underscores just how few healthy defenders the Tigers have had to work with this spring.
Three players who are expected to be key contributors in 2015 were held out last Saturday: defensive linemen Carl Lawson (still recovering from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last spring) and DaVonte Lambert (knee) as well as corner Jonathan Jones (foot). All three will likely be starters this fall. Beyond that, two others who should provide helpful reps off the bench next season were sidelined as well: defensive lineman Raashed Kennion and the aforementioned, oft-injured Garrett.
Despite being without so many integral pieces, the defense looked no worse for the wear. Will Muschamp's unit allowed the fewest combined points (38) in an A-Day game since Malzahn's reign on the Plains began — which the head coach happily pointed out in his postgame press conference.
Still, if we've learned anything about previous editions of the spring game, it's that the results must be taken with a heavy dose of salt. (Recall that in this space last year, it was written that the Tigers could shatter all of their single-season school passing records after they put on an air show at A-Day. Of course, that didn't come to pass, pardon the pun.)
But one thing seems certain: this year's defensive MVP won't be a non-entity. Safety Tray Matthews not being in the starting lineup for the opener versus Louisville would register as a shock.
As for Burton? Who knows? The coaching staff expressed confidence that last Saturday was more a sign of things to come than a one-hit wonder. Judging by the past two offensive MVPs, Burton is trending in the right direction.
At least that has a better track record than posing for the Madden cover or triumphing in the Par 3 tournament.