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Countdown to kickoff: Looking at Auburn’s freshman redshirt candidates

Auburn defensive lineman Antwuan Jackson practiced in pads on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016 at the university's athletic complex.
Auburn defensive lineman Antwuan Jackson practiced in pads on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016 at the university's athletic complex. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Editor’s note: T-minus 17 days and counting until Auburn opens the season against Clemson on Sept. 3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Check back every morning as we break down the roster, profile key players and look at unanswered questions coming out of training camp.

The idea of redshirting isn’t an appealing one for competitive freshman football players. Highly rated recruits want to help their new teams when they get on campus not sit out a full year watching the action.

It can take the benefit of experience to realize the extra year of development isn’t always a bad thing.

“I believe that redshirting is the best thing to do,” Auburn defensive lineman Dontavius Russell said during fall camp. “All I can think about is if I had another year to play in high school. I think redshirting is always beneficial. It depends on how the player takes it and what the coaches thinks.”

Running back Kamryn Pettway agreed.

“It helped a lot cause it made the process much easier to learn the footsteps and protection,” Pettway said. “I think it helped a lot.”

A substantial number of true freshman will play this year, but Auburn isn’t going to sacrifice a year of eligibility for a player the coaching staff isn’t sure will be able to help them.

These freshmen look like candidates to redshirt this season:

  • Prince Sammons (OL) – Auburn has played one freshman offensive lineman in the last two years. Sammons, who doesn’t have a whole lot of experience, might miss all of fall camp recovering from surgery on his foot. The Tigers have depth on the offensive line, so they can take their time developing Sammons.
  • Antwuan Jackson (DL) and Nick Coe (DL) – Auburn had talent up front before adding a deep defensive line class. Coe was one of the final prospects to gain academic eligibility putting him behind most of his classmates that went through summer workouts. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner hasn’t seen much of Coe, but described him as a raw talent a week into camp. Jackson is an early enrollee, but the numbers don’t add up in his favor. Auburn won’t waste a year eligibility for a few snaps a game.
  • Marquis McClain (WR) — Auburn has three other receivers in McClain’s class and three other promising underclassmen (Ryan Davis, Stanton Truitt and Darius Slayton) competing for playing time. This is another case where the numbers don’t help McClain’s chances.
  • Tre Threat (LB) — The addition of Illinois graduate transfer T.J. Neal gives Auburn some breathing room at linebacker. The depth chart at the position is shaping up with Darrell Williams, Deshaun Davis, Montavious Atkinson and Cameron Toney all ahead of the freshman.
  • Stephen Davis (RB) — It looked liked Davis could see some playing time on the offense, but he was ruled out for the season with an injury three days into fall camp.
  • Marlon Character (S) — Character could sit this season if Auburn doesn’t lose another defensive back to injury. With Marshall Taylor’s status still up in the air and Jamel Dean’s recent injury, Character will have to be ready just in case.
  • Jayvaughn Myers (DB) — Central alum John Broussard is the freshman in line to see early playing time ahead of Myers. Broussard took advantage of enrolling early consistently repping with the second and third team defense throughout spring camp into the fall.
  • Brodarious Hamm (OL) and Tashawn Manning (OL) — Both offensive linemen are recovering from bouts with cancer and have been ruled out for the season. Hamm might need to redshirt having enrolled over the summer, but Manning’s status is different as he plans to enroll in January leaving his eligibility intact.

Extra point: Which true freshman plays the most snaps in 2016?

Auburn wasn’t afraid to mix in true freshman last season. Defensive back Carlton Davis quickly turned into an every down player while Bryon Cowart, Kerryon Johnson, Jalen Harris, Chandler Cox and Jeff Holland all carved out spots in the rotation.

Coach Gus Malzahn is willing to rely on freshman again this season.

With many of the first year players expected to see the field are competing at positions with a crowded depth chart — defensive line, wide receiver and running back — it’s hard to see an obvious frontrunner.

Bottom line — Marlon Davidson is only true freshman to take first team reps during spring and fall. The early enrollee impressed coaches with his physical and mental maturity. Davidson could easily find a prominent place in coach Garner’s rotation if he has some early success rushing the quarterback.

Stat of the day

Auburn has redshirted a total of 27 freshmen the past two seasons. Six of those players are no longer with the team.

The Tigers redshirted 16 players last year, but junior Darius James sat out the year as a transfer from Texas. All five of the team’s freshman offensive linemen in the 2015 class were redshirted.

Notable players redshirted out of Auburn’s 2014 class include Pettway, Sean White and Deshaun Davis.

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