Former Auburn tailback Kerryon Johnson ran the wildcat package to near-perfection in his three years of action on The Plains.
A second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by Detroit, Johnson began to receive direct snaps in front of an unbalanced line in the 2015 season, but really dominated the package last year. Johnson tossed a pair of red-zone passing touchdowns from the formation in the 2017 calendar year (vs. Oklahoma, Alabama) and scored three of his SEC season-high five rushing scores against Missouri from a direct snap.
In the meat of their 2018 preseason camp, the Tigers are attempting to inscribe that offensivemagic back into the playbook.
At Monday’s practice, the last viewing period for the media on the current camp schedule, offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey showcased Wildcat packages for redshirt freshman running back JaTarvious Whitlow and senior H-back Chandler Cox. First-team running back Kam Martin, injured receiver Eli Stove, and true freshman speedsters Anthony Schwartz and Shaun Shivers motioned in front of Cox and Martin as jet sweep options.
Whitlow’s participation in the formation comes as no surprise. A product of LaFayette High School, Whitlow is playing his third position in as many years after accounting for 4,439 total yards and 59 combined touchdowns as the senior starting quarterback. The “Madden-like” athlete then worked as a wide receiver during his injury marred true freshman year. Whitlow’s potential to contribute as a runner, passer and receiver makes him a deadly pick for a direct-snap set.
But Cox’s involvement was shocking and may open old wounds for Auburn fans. At the start of the 2016 season, while Gus Malzahn and former offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee were infamously cycling quarterbacks Sean White, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III, Cox took some ineffective direct snaps. And after an embarrassing Wildcat attempt by Cox in a 30-12 Iron Bowl loss at Alabama, the “Cox Cat” was all but eradicated. Sort of.
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“That’s definitely a thing of the past,” Cox said at the following spring camp. “It was fun while it lasted. We may run it again, I don’t know. It’d be cool to do it again.”
If the package is revived, the Tigers have teased a return to their unbalanced line roots. J.B. Grimes employed his “orange” first-team offensive line for the drill, but shuffled positions and added Tucker Brown, a reserve center and proven blocker at tight end. From left to right, the six-man wrecking crew was Brown, guard Marquel Harrell, center Kaleb Kim, guard Mike Horton, tackle Jack Driscoll and tackle Prince Tega Wanogho.
As Auburn’s primary “flanker” last season, Stove was limited in the drill and served mainly to teach the others. Schwartz began the viewing period in footwork drills with Kodi Burns and a cluster of other receivers before Burns pulled him to the side. After a quick conversation, Schwartz jogged off to join the Wildcat group. Shivers’ reps served as another hint at Malzahn’s plan of utilizing the freshman’s “different speed” across the offense.
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