AUBURN, Ala. -- The Tigers have been known for their running game, but this season, Gus Malzahn has has said he will emphasize an offensive plan centered around the quarterback's strengths.
Although Jeremy Johnson has the versatility to make whatever play necessary, whether that incorporates running or throwing, Malzahn put it in his own terms that passing will be of utmost importance this season.
"Jeremy has the ability," Malzahn said. "He can flat out throw it."
This season, Johnson won't have a problem with having someone to catch his throws.
The players: Sporting a hard hat on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated Kids, Duke Williams is easily the top receiver in the nation. The senior (6-2, 224 pounds) played in 10 games last season, missing the Georgia and Samford games with an injury and the Outback Bowl for disciplinary reasons. He started seven out of the 10, leading the team with 45 catches for 730 yards, and made his Auburn debut against Arkansas memorable with 154 receiving yards, the 12th best receiving day by an Auburn player.
Williams is a strong contender for the 2015 Walter Camp Award.
If it's not Williams, Johnson will throw to returning senior Ricardo Louis. In 2013, Louis made history by snagging a throw from Nick Marshall deflected off the hands of Georgia's Josh Harvey-Clemons on a 4th-and-18, 72-yard touchdown to win the game with 25 seconds on the clock. But Louis has more to show for, being with the Tigers since he was a true freshman in 2012. With over 20 game appearances, Louis has had plenty of time to showcase his versatile ability to be the guy to step in and make the big plays. It also doesn't hurt that he's seen play time with Johnson in 2013 against Western Carolina with a 46-yard touchdown reception.
Williams and Louis stand as the frontrunners, but Melvin Ray and A-Day MVP Myron Burton shouldn't be overlooked.
Ray makes the third senior receiver in the lineup, starting in seven games last season out of 13 appearances, where he made the longest reception of the game (25 yards) from Johnson against Georgia.
Although Burton is just starting out, his A-Day performance is a good indication of the receiving game he has.
Expectations: The Tigers are looking at Williams to bring his receiving talent back for his last season and make the catches from Johnson, just as he did repeatedly for Marshall. Should he get in trouble or suffer another game-threatening injury, Louis, Ray or Burton will keep the ball moving. If Johnson needs a receiver deeper down field, Louis is the one to call on.
Outcome: The return of Williams will be a huge advantage for the Tigers, and the lineup might even be able to replace the hole where Sammie Coates made his mark on the Auburn receiving game. If the ball's in the air, the Tigers shouldn't have a problem making plays.