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ESPN commentator, former NFL tight end Anthony Becht previews Birmingham Bowl

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Former NFL tight end Anthony Becht is now a college football analyst for ESPN.
Former NFL tight end Anthony Becht is now a college football analyst for ESPN.

Anthony Becht is keeping busy.

The retired 12-year NFL veteran is part of ESPN’s broadcast team for the Birmingham Bowl Wednesday at Legion Field. It’s the third bowl game he’s called for the network the past two weeks.

Becht splits his time working as a college analyst for ESPN and radio co-host for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pre-and post-game show.

In a phone interview Tuesday morning, the former first round pick out of West Virginia shared his thoughts on the matchup between Auburn and Memphis.

While it’s the first time he’s seeing both teams in person this season, he’s familiar with both programs. He called an Auburn game in 2014 and drew Memphis four times the previous two seasons.

Becht spent the last few days filling in the gaps by watching film from the regular season. It didn’t take the former tight end much time to identify the issues plaguing Auburn’s offense.

“It’s pretty obvious to anyone that quarterback has been the lackluster spot,” Becht said. “There was some overhype at the position going into the season.”

Jeremy Johnson’s success in limited work as a sophomore was too “small a sample size” to accurately project how he would perform as a full-time starter.

The problem for Johnson was his inability to quickly read the defense.

“He was a little behind reading coverage and I think that eventually became a confidence issue,” Becht said.

When Sean White was thrown into the lineup, Becht was impressed with the way the freshman understood the position. The problems for White started when he injured his left knee against Arkansas.

“I think the quarterback in that offense at least has to be somewhat of a run threat so defenses have to honor it,” Becht said. “With his leg hurting and wearing the brace he didn’t have the kind of mobility he needed.”

The lack of a consistent deep-ball threat at wide receiver only added to Auburn’s struggles in the passing game.

For Auburn’s offense to be successful, Becht said it needs a high-end receiver that can take the top of a defense.

“I like what I saw out of their offensive line, but teams sold out to stop the running game,” Becht said. “The lack of Duke Williams or a similar big-time, explosive wide receiver prevented them from being what they were in the past.”

Auburn’s issues didn’t stop Becht from identifying one player with some untapped potential on its offense. 

“A healthy Jovon Robinson has that explosiveness, power, speed and agility to get through the line and then take it to the house,” Becht said.

Becht called Robinson and Peyton Barber a “nice mix” in Auburn’s backfield with Barber’s ability to run between the tackles and provide solid pass protection.

Maxed out at Memphis

Becht has enjoyed watching Paxton Lynch go from what he described as a game manager to top NFL draft prospect.

The junior quarterback has shown such “tremendous growth” in three years under center running Memphis’ offense that Becht fully expects the Florida native to enter the NFL draft following the team’s bowl game.

“I think he’s kind of maxed out at Memphis,” Becht said. “You never know what kind of talent you are going to be surrounded with next season.”

In watching film, Becht said Memphis’ coaching staff  “opened the floodgates” with the playbook this season and the quarterback thrived.

“I have really seen him develop,” Becht said. “He’s got that impressive stature (6-foot-7) and arm strength to go with sneaky speed. He’s also extremely accurate.”

Becht does see some “next-level negatives” for Lynch — an elongated motion, questions surrounding his ability to throw the deep ball — that are a concern, but Becht called Memphis’ quarterback a “sure-fire” second round pick.

If given time to learn in the right system, Becht believes Lynch could flourish in the NFL.

“He came from a wing-T offense in high school, so he is still learning,” Becht said. “You look at a team like the Eagles drafting in the 12 to 18 range, they would love a guy with his skill set. He’s a guy I think they seriously would have to consider.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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