Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn concluded National Signing Day at his Wednesday afternoon press conference, praising his recruiting staff’s ability to land another top-10 class in 2020.
The Tigers finished the day ranked No. 10 on Rivals.com and No. 7 in 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, giving Auburn’s newly appointed offensive coordinator, Chad Morris, plenty of young guns at his disposal.
In recent years, critics of Malzahn’s offense have questioned aspects of the passing game, as well as the lack of use from the tight end position. Malzahn is now handing the play-calling duties over to Morris, who was key in helping land 4-star tight end Brandon Frazier.
Frazier was one of three recruits who signed their letter of intent on Wednesday.
“A lot of our fan base says, ‘When are we going to throw to the tight end?’ Well, it’s here,” Malzahn said. “The frustration of not throwing to the tight end enough, I think we’ve got two guys that can really help change that.”
Although Morris didn’t utilize his tight ends much in his time at SMU, his offenses at Arkansas incorporated them more than almost any other team in the country. Cheyenne O’ Grady, who was Morris’ starting tight end in 2018, earned two Pro Football Focus SEC Team of the Week honors in back-to-back games versus Texas A&M and No. 1 Alabama. O’ Grady led the team in receptions (30) and receiving touchdowns (6) totaling 400 yards on ana average of 13.3 per catch during his junior season.
“Really, if you look at what Coach Morris did the last two years, I think they targeted the tight end the most or the second most in all of college football. So that’s really a big priority for Coach Morris,” Malzahn said. “Brandon knows that, too. I think the closest thing physically to him is C.J. Uzomah -- he may be a little bigger at this point but, he’s has great range.”
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Along with Frazier, the Tigers added another 4-star tight end J.J. Pegues out of the state of Mississippi over Alabama and Ole Miss. Malzahn expects Morris to focus on utilizing Frazier and Pegues in new ways this next season.
“Both of them are big, strong guys and have those NFL-type bodies,” Malzahn said. “So yeah, you’ll definitely see more targets towards the tight ends than what you’ve seen in recent history with Chad running the offense.”
Malzahn announced, in the days after Morris’ hiring, that his longtime friend would be taking over the play-calling duties. This isn’t the first time that Malzahn has said this either. When Auburn brought on Chip Lindsey as offensive coordinator almost four years ago, Malzahn gave way to let him control the offense before taking the duties back over when Lindsey departed.
Malzahn was asked Wednesday why he is handing the offense over to Morris, after the first experiment didn’t work.
“Well, I just hired, in my opinion, the best offensive coordinator in college football,” Malzahn said. “You get an opportunity to hire a guy like Chad Morris … I love calling plays -- I’ve said that numerous times -- but when you get a chance to hire Chad Morris, he’s not just good, he’s special good in my opinion and I’m so excited he’s here.”
For an offense that was the focal point of harsh criticism at points during last season, Malzahn is hoping that bringing in Morris will signal a new beginning.
“I think, more than anything, a fresh start and fresh eyes,” Malzahn said. “We’re from the same family and foundation but he’s different. I know him and Bo (Nix) and Cord (Sandberg) have spent a lot of time together just talking about the new things we’re going to do.”
Morris was the main orchestrator, in his time on staff at Clemson, that revolutionized Deshaun Watson and an offense that went on to win two national championships and four straight conference titles. Malzahn is hoping to see the same strides in a passing attack at Auburn that has been a question mark at times over the past few years.
Along with Pegues and Frazier, Morris will have four new wide receiver signees to work with, all of them above 6-feet tall. Kobe Hudson, J.J. Evans and Ze’Vian Capers are all 4-star prospects and Elijah Canion is a 3-star signee. Both Morris and returning starting quarterback Bo Nix will be hoping the 2020 class helps add more of a vertical threat to the Tigers’ offense.
“I know our receivers are excited about it,” Malzahn said. “I’d say there’s a good chance we could throw it more than we did last year and build around Bo’s strengths. I think more than anything, the newness, fresh eyes, and a fresh start -- and a guy that has been ultra-successful doing it.”
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