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Auburn camp preview: Ranking the underclassmen key to team’s 2016 success

Auburn defensive back Carlton Davis, No. 6, runs drills during spring practice.
Auburn defensive back Carlton Davis, No. 6, runs drills during spring practice. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn relied on younger inexperienced players in key roles last year to uneven results. The Tigers will be similarly dependent on fresh faces in 2016 to get the team back on track. With fall camp starting on Wednesday, here are the five underclassmen who will help make or break Auburn’s year.

1. Carlton Davis (DB)

If the defensive back can continue his assent to All-SEC performer it will go a long way into making Auburn’s defense into one of the better ones in the conference.

Davis gave Tigers receivers fit in the spring until a minor finger injury kept him out of A-Day. An offseason arrest won’t force Davis to miss any time this fall meaning he can focus solely on improving his game.

2. Sean White (QB)

Auburn would benefit from having a quarterback take the reigns of the offense early in fall camp. White has some advantages in the three-way battle thanks to his experience — six starts last season — and a strong grasp of the passing game.

The sophomore might not have the upside of a true dual threat quarterback, but don’t discount his leadership skills. White steadied the ship for Auburn last year when he was thrown into the fire with only four days to prepare for his first career start.

3. Marlon Davidson (DL)

The breakout freshman of the spring spent most of his time taking reps with the first team.

Auburn hasn’t turned many of its recent high-profile recruits into immediate impact players, but Davidson has a real chance at bucking the trend. New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele called Davidson mature enough — physically and mentally — to handle early playing time.

Davidson also drew praise from fellow lineman Carl Lawson.

“He's come out there and every day has practiced like a pro, just keep practicing consistently every day and works hard to get better. Consistency in a young guy is really hard to find, and that's what he's been able to do.

4. Kerryon Johnson (RB)

Coach Gus Malzahn offered high praise for Johnson at SEC Media Days.

“Kerryon Johnson has got a chance to be one of the most versatile guys in the league,” Malzahn said. “His best days are to come.”

Johnson had modest numbers as a true freshman, but showed he can contribute in a number of ways as the team’s wildcat quarterback and kick returner.

Offseason shoulder surgery kept Johnson out of all but one of Auburn’s 15 spring practices, but no one on the team’s offensive coaching staff is concerned about the running back being behind his teammates at the start of training camp next week.

Johnson is the type of playmaker Auburn’s offense needs to step up in the fall.

5. Byron Cowart (DL)

Cowart is a former five-star recruit that didn’t live up to the hype as a true freshman.

While Steele and defensive line coach Rodney Garner call the high expectations Cowart faced “unfair,” the defense needs more production from its pass-rushers to be successful.

Cowart spent very little time in opposing backfields last season playing 20 snaps a game. The lineman admitted during spring camp he needed time to adjust to competition in the SEC.

The early reviews are that he’s turned a corner.

“Just coming from his struggles last year a little bit and at the end of the season he started picking it up,” defensive lineman Montravius Adams said. “Like I said he’s trying to run with it.”

Honorable mentions

Jamel Dean (DB); Darrell Williams (LB); Nate Craig-Myers (WR); Kyle Davis (WR); Jeff Holland (DL); Ryan Davis (WR); Chandler Cox (FB); Deshaun Davis (LB); Javaris Davis (DB)