The day Auburn reported to campus for its 2018 fall camp, the team’s leaders conducted a players-only meeting that included discussions about replacing the production of injured wide receivers Eli Stove and Will Hastings (ACLs). The freshman crop of wideouts were made to listen well.
They must have taken good notes.
As if the quartet of first-year receivers hadn’t been making enough noise through the first week of fall camp, each made his own impact play in the teams first scrimmage Thursday morning, according to their starting quarterback.
“They’re doing phenomenal,” redshirt junior Jarrett Stidham said. “When you talk about guys like Anthony Schwartz, Matthew Hill, Seth Williams and Shedrick Jackson, those guys can play. If I remember correctly, all four of those guys had a pretty significant play throughout the scrimmage.”
The receivers’ work ethic and pure athleticism has been praised since camp opened last Friday, but Stidham was able to provide more specifics on what everyone brought to the offense in the 11-on-11 scrimmage.
Jackson, the nephew of Auburn legend and Heisman winner Bo Jackson, had a handful of grabs, highlighted by a 10-yard stop route and a long catch on a back-shoulder throw, shown below.
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The “savvy” Hill is apparently continuing Ryan Davis’ tradition of killer tunnel screens on The Plains, making a few defenders miss on a “really good” screen in the scrimmage.
“(Matthew Hill) may not be the fastest guy but he knows how to wiggle,” Stidham said. “He knows how to run the ball. He sees the open field. That’s something that I really love.”
Stidham had to recall back to his time at Baylor to find an apt comparison for the former four-star Hill. He eventually landed on Levi Norwood, who played with Stidham in 2014. But, when asked if Hill’s skillset compares to that of the injured senior Hastings, Stidham drew the line.
“Will (Hastings) is just different,” Stidham said. “I’ve never seen anyone move like Will.”
Perhaps the least talked about prospect of Auburn’s stacked 2018 class of receivers, the 6-foot-3 Williams took one “60, 70 yards” for a catch-and-run touchdown off a slant, a play seldom seen in Chip Lindsey’s offense last season.
“Seth (Williams) is obviously a big body; he can go up and get the ball,” Stidham said. “I don’t know what his vertical is, but he may have the highest leaping ability on the team. And Darius Slayton may get mad at me for saying that. (Williams) can flat-out make some impressive plays.”
And Schwartz, a silver medal winner for the 100m at the 2018 U20 World Championships in Finland, took an end-around handoff for “20, 25 yards.” Auburn usually hands off on end-arounds to its “flanker,” a position occupied by Stove last year.
“Anthony came in late, but he’s learning the playbook,” senior linebacker Deshaun Davis said. “His 10-flat is 10-flat. He can run, it’s not a joke.”
Despite not forcing Stidham into any mistakes, Davis said the defense held up “pretty well.” He’s not sure if he’ll be able to say the same for the defenses his quarterback will face this season, however.
“With Jarrett throwing the ball and putting it in the places he puts it, the sky’s the limit for the offense,” Davis said.
In addition to the rookies, veterans Nate Craig-Myers and Darius Slayton have both taken “huge steps forward” in camp, per Stidham. Although each playmaker has his niche in the offense, Stidham believes the skillsets are diverse and the stereotypes (Slayton can only catch deep balls, Davis only succeeds on screens, etc.) are in a phaseout period.
“Obviously, everyone has their certain role, everyone has those certain things they’re good at,” Stidham said. “With myself coming back, all the receivers coming back, we just have a better understanding of each other. Coach Malzahn and Coach Lindsey have a better understanding of us and how we play. Just in fall camp this week, I’ve seen a significant difference in spreading the ball around.”
The sky is no longer falling for Auburn’s receivers as it seemed amid the spring injuries. Instead, old-timers are continuing to grow, and the preseason second team All-SEC quarterback has an electric set of youngsters to experiment with.
“I hope we’re pretty challenging for people to stop,” Stidham said. “We have a lot of weapons and we’re going to utilize that.”
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