2018 could mark end of era for Auburn football’s H-backs, tight ends

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Jalen Harris-John Samuel Shenker-Chandler
            Cox

Auburn football will return to action in less than three weeks with the start of spring practices on March 1. Between now and then, SEC Country will preview each of the Tigers’ position groups heading into camp. Up next, we preview the H-back and tight end roles.

Auburn H-back/tight end depth charts

H-back

  • Chandler Cox (Senior)
  • Spencer Nigh (Junior – walk-on)
  • Chase Cramer (Junior – walk-on)
  • Alex Medary (Redshirt freshman – walk-on)

Tight end

  • Jalen Harris (Senior)
  • Tucker Brown (Senior)
  • John Samuel Shenker (Redshirt freshman)

Departures and arrivals

  • Departures: Pete Berryman (walk-on), Keenan Sweeney (walk-on), Caleb King (walk-on)
  • Arrivals: Harold Joiner* (summer enrollee)

*RB signee, but coaches have already talked about using him at TE

The question

Is there any reason to expect anything different from this position in 2018? 

The talk has gone on for several years: Auburn definitely is going to throw to the tight end more this season. And while Chandler Cox — who is an out-and-out fullback — more than doubled his career total with 8 receptions last season, the Tigers didn’t do that in 2017. Jalen Harris caught just 1 pass. Sal Cannella, the hyped JUCO transfer, played almost exclusively at receiver.

Auburn used the tight end more in 2017 under Chip Lindsey, it just didn’t come in the form of the passing game. The Tigers ran more tight end sets, with Harris and Brown doing a solid job blocking. Cox had his most consistent season as a lead-blocking specialist at H-back. If this offense is going to use these two interchangeable positions just to block, it’ll be a fine investment.

SPRING PRACTICE PREVIEWS: QB | RB | WR

After failing to sign a single tight end in the Class of 2018, Auburn knows what it has at tight end and H-back this season. John Samuel Shenker, who redshirted last season, was brought in to be the future of the position — someone who could transition between H-back, tight end and slot receiver while taking away the need to substitute. Incoming running back Harold Joiner has already been compared to former Gus Malzahn star Charles Clay. But with Cox, Harris and Brown still on campus, 2018 might just be more of the same.

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Auburn H-back Chandler Cox will enter his fourth and final season with the Tigers in 2018. (Justin Ferguson/SEC Country)

The star

Chandler Cox

Cox was shaky at times to start the season for the Tigers in 2017. But during Auburn’s stretch run — when it knocked off two No. 1 teams to win the SEC West — he was an efficient performer. Auburn felt more comfortable throwing the ball his way. That might happen a little more in his final season on the Plains.

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Auburn tight end John Samuel Shenker was a late addition to the Tigers’ 2017 recruiting class. (Justin Ferguson/SEC Country)

The wild card

John Samuel Shenker

If Auburn turns the page to the future of the position in 2018, it’ll come through Shenker. He ran a similar role to what the Tigers want from their “extra man,” so to speak, at Georgia powerhouse Colquitt County High School as a senior. Shenker can do it all — catch, run, block, stand up, split out, put his hand in the dirt — but Auburn didn’t need him to contribute last season. After a redshirt year, he’ll have a chance to rise up the depth chart this spring.

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Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has promised more passing to the tight ends in recent seasons. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

The prediction

The “we’ll throw it more to the tight end” message will get repeated again throughout spring practice.

Expect the questions to be asked of Malzahn and Lindsey. Expect the same answers. But until Auburn makes the tight end a consistent part of its passing game, it’s best to be in “believe it when you see it” mode.

The stat

  • 49. In Auburn’s first five seasons under Malzahn, the Tigers have completed 49 passes — fewer than an average of 10 per season — to the tight ends and H-backs. By comparison, the late Philip Lutzenkirchen caught 54 passes in his final three seasons at Auburn.

The quote

Chip Lindsey on HB/TE versatility while staying true to use of his best players:

“Obviously, we like to have a guy who can stay on the field no matter what formation you can get into. And we’ve got guys who can do that. But to put our guys in the best position to win… Chandler Cox is one of our best players, for sure. We use those guys, like I said earlier, find the strengths of your team and put them in position to win. That’s something we’re trying to address.”

The post 2018 could mark end of era for Auburn football’s H-backs, tight ends appeared first on SEC Country.

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