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Mailbag: Talking impact freshman, recruiting and red zone offense

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2015 file photo, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn walks off the field with his head down in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Alabama, in Auburn, Ala. Malzahn's tasks leading up to the Birmingham Bowl against Memphis include replacing Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator and secondary coach Travaris Robinson, who went with the new South Carolina head man.
FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2015 file photo, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn walks off the field with his head down in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Alabama, in Auburn, Ala. Malzahn's tasks leading up to the Birmingham Bowl against Memphis include replacing Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator and secondary coach Travaris Robinson, who went with the new South Carolina head man. AP Photo

The clock is ticking down to national signing day.

Auburn is targeting some major names, but won't get answers until next week when players including Ben Davis, Nate Craig-Myers and Jayvaughn Myers announce their decisions live on ESPN.

Fans want to see the Tigers reel in a few more big names, but they also have concerns looking ahead to the spring.

Time to open the mailbag and answer some reader questions:

Q: Are there any true freshman that will make an impact this season? (@Drnasty20)

Do you think any of the freshman wide receivers come in and contribute starting minutes? (@Auburnsport)

Answer — Yes and yes.

Wide receiver was a trouble spot all season long for Auburn. The Tigers have one early enrollee at the position (Kyle Davis), another verbal commit (Eli Stove) and are recruiting a number of other highly rated prospects at the position.

With so little production coming back, the depth chart is wide open. If one of the receivers stands out in fall camp then a starting spot will be theirs for the taking.

The defensive line is another area where freshman could make an impact.

Three early signees (Marlon Davidson, Antwuan Jackson and JUCO transfer Paul James) are already on campus. They could be joined by as many as four verbal commits come national signing day.

It would make little sense to redshirt six to seven players at a position of need.

Q: Percentages of picking up Myers brothers and Ben Davis? (@AURecruit)

What are the chances Auburn lands Ben Davis or NCM? (@AuburnAllDay)

Answer — Auburn has ground to make up with Ben Davis. Davis has gone on record to say Auburn is behind Alabama and Georgia, but the linebacker visits the plains this weekend.

I think it will be an uphill battle for Auburn to seal the deal with Davis considering the linebacker’s father Wayne Davis is Alabama’s career tackling leader.

It helps that Kevin Steele had a previous relationship with Davis and Auburn has a need at the position, but that might not be enough to sway the 5-star linebacker.

Auburn’s chances are much better with Nate Craig-Myers and his brother Jayvaughn Myers.

The brothers narrowed their options down to two schools on Thursday with the Tigers and North Carolina the last teams standing. Everything seems to be lining up for Auburn to land the talented Florida duo.

Nate Craig-Myers had previously verbally committed to Auburn, but reopened his recruitment over the summer.

With Auburn’s aforementioned need at wide receiver, Craig-Myers would be a perfect fit.

Q: Will Auburn ever wear a different uniform for a game? (@JCHamner73)

Answer — We touched on this last week in discussing Auburn’s alternate shoe and sock combinations.

The long and short answer is not right now.

When Auburn re-upped its apparel contract with Under Armour, athletic director Jay Jacobs made it clear in no uncertain terms the football team’s uniforms were off limits.

“We have a very tradition-rich university,” Jacobs said. “I believe that certain things like our football uniform is somewhat sacred.”

The last time Auburn did anything different with its uniforms was in 2007 when it wore helmets without the AU logo in recognition of the 50th anniversary of its 1957 National Championship.

When Jacobs steps down in the future, it’s possible the next athletic director won’t take such a hard-line stance against alternate uniforms especially considering their popularity among players.

Q: Is Tyler Queen healthy enough to compete for the starting quarterback job this spring? (@ChuckA56)

Answer — Tyler Queen had a procedure in the fall that Gus Malzahn called “similar” to Tommy John surgery. Queen had previously suffered an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament playing baseball in March 2014, but didn’t require surgery. 

Malzahn never went into any other detail, but if the recovery time of the procedure Queen went through is similar to Tommy John surgery he wouldn’t be ready to play until at least fall camp.

The standard window for pitchers to return to action following the surgery is between 12 and 16 months.

Q: What do you think Gus and Rhett will tweek this season to improve red zone offense? (@Drnasty20)

Answer — The personnel.

Auburn’s play calling was an issue last season, but coach Malzahn has a long history of success running his system with the right players.

I don’t see him throwing out a playbook he has a lot of confidence based on one down year. It’s more likely he finds a quarterback better tailored to his run-play action offense and a more consistent combination of receivers.

One tweek I could see is an expanded use of the wildcat package with Kerryon Johnson. The experience Johnson gained in the fall and his natural talent makes him a dangerous combination with the ball.

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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