The Auburn football team has been without its star wide receiver for part of fall camp, and a return date is yet to be determined.
D’haquille “Duke” Williams was not at practice beginning Friday, Aug. 7.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spoke with the media following practice and said Williams was dealing with “personal business.”
Coach Gus Malzahn spoke with the media following practice Saturday, Aug. 8, which Williams also missed, and went more in-depth about the senior’s status going forward.
“He had a discipline issue that we’re taking care of,” Malzahn said. “When he takes care of that, he’ll be back on the field. I’ll make that decision. … Bottom line, nobody is bigger than the team around here and that’s between me and him.”
Williams led the Tigers with 45 catches and five receiving touchdowns in 2014, despite playing in only 10 of Auburn’s 13 games. He was also second on the team with 730 receiving yards, only 11 yards behind Sammie Coates.
The LaPlace, Louisiana, native was the No. 1 rated junior college prospect in the 2014 recruiting class. He burst on to the scene against Arkansas, catching nine passes for 154 yards and a touchdown in the season opener.
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Williams continued his solid play until he was forced to miss two games after suffering a sprained MCL against Texas A&M.
He returned to action in the Iron Bowl and caught seven passes for 121 yards but was then suspended for the Outback Bowl for a violation of team rules.
Following his success in 2014, expectations were high for Williams entering the 2015 season.
NFL draft expert Mel Kiper had high praise for Williams in January, calling him the No. 1 receiver in the 2016 draft class.
"I think when you look at Duke Williams, he'll be the No. 1 guy and next year he'll go into the season right there at the top,” Kiper said. “There's not going to be many receivers rated ahead, if any rated ahead of Duke Williams going into the season. He's going to have a very high grade."
Coates has departed for the NFL, so Williams was set to be the No. 1 receiving threat under new quarterback Jeremy Johnson.
Duke was a preseason All-SEC selection at SEC Media Days in July and was placed on watch lists for the Walter Camp and Maxwell awards, which go to the nation’s top college football player.
Without his production, Auburn will turn to receivers such as Ricardo Louis, Marcus Davis and Melvin Ray to step up until Williams returns.
“The good thing is, we’ve got a lot of receivers that we feel very good about,” Malzahn said. “We’re relying on those guys for leadership.”
Louis said the receiving corps will continue to work hard to improve, with or without Williams.
“We don’t skip a beat,” Louis said. “We have a goal and we want to accomplish that. We’re going to do whatever it takes and not let distractions hold us back.”
Johnson said his focus is on improving his chemistry with the other receivers.
“We feel really good about the other receivers we’ve got,” Johnson said. “We’ve got four tremendous guys who are going to help us. This hasn’t been a distraction, and we won’t let it be a distraction.”
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