Will Hastings and Eli Stove may have four outstanding freshman receivers to thank for filling the gaps in production opened by their ACL injuries. But the pair isn't going to lay down and sulk while they do.
All throughout the Tigers' preseason, coaches and teammates have endlessly praised the rehabilitation of Hastings and Stove, who both suffered torn ACLs in spring ball. The duo has been limited, yes, but has shown encouraging quickness in drills since the first day of fall camp.
No one appreciates that more than their position coach, Kodi Burns.
“I’m excited and impressed with how they’ve trained," Burns said Thursday. "I think their mindset from Day 1 has been ‘I want to get back. I want to be back for this entire season.’ The fact that they’re this far along right now has been really impressive for me to see."
Stove saw action last season as the Tigers' primary "flanker," receiving jet sweeps to the tune of 315 rushing yards and a pair of scores. He also emerged as a weapon in the passing game, grabbing 29 receptions for 265 yards. The junior underwent surgery on March 13.
Sixteen days later, Hastings, a senior who began his Auburn career as a walk-on kicker, had a similar surgery after injuring his knee in the team's first spring scrimmage. As Auburn's starting slot receiver in 2017, "White Lightning" had 26 receptions for 525 yards and four touchdowns.
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“It speaks to their character and the type of kids they are. It’s easy to get down in rehab," Burns said. "They don’t have bad days. They always come in bright-eyed and ready to go with a smile on their face, trying to rehab and trying to get back with their team. I expect to see them here pretty soon."
Gus Malzahn said at SEC Media Days that he is eyeing a midseason return for at least Hastings. At the beginning of fall camp, the coach added that, while the two have been "progressing very well," he's not ready to announce a concrete timetable.
“It’s not my job to push them back," Burns said. "I want them to come back when they’re ready to come back.”
With more available reps than maybe anticipated when they signed, Auburn's true freshman quartet of Seth Williams, Matthew Hill, Anthony Schwartz and Shedrick Jackson have embraced their roles in fall practices. Williams is a big-bodied target, Hill is "savvy" in space, Schwartz burns defenders with sheer speed and Jackson uses his experience from spring practices to be fundamentally sound.
And until Hastings and Stove are welcomed back, Burns will rely heavily on his youngsters.
“I’d be shocked, to be honest, if all four of them aren’t on the field in some capacity, at some point,” Burns said. “They’re very special. I think this is one of the most talented groups I’ve had as far as true freshmen. These guys can absolutely go. It’s just about being more comfortable and confident and picking up the offense.”
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