Even one of the running backs stopped and looked upfield, pausing over the perplexing sight.
Jay Jay Wilson finally dropped a pass.
Wilson has excelled and impressed ever since arriving on the Plains as a graduate transfer at tight end and H-Back — to the point where last Wednesday’s team scrimmage marked the first time coaches and players alike can remember seeing the imposing, 6-foot-3, 249-pound ready-made impact player drop a ball during preseason camp.
His position coach Larry Porter remembers the moment. That running back was senior Kam Martin, who pointed to that play as well.
The fact that one play stands out so poignant points to just what kind of potential Wilson has flexed at the start of his mercenary senior season on the Plains.
“He has a skill set that we haven’t had around here in a while,” Porter said, of his tattooed new weapon who played both tight end at linebacker at Arizona State before jumping to Auburn to finish out his collegiate eligibility.
He’s shown his height. He’s shown his muscle. Linebackers coach Travis Williams agreed that his past at linebacker gives him confidence Wilson won’t shy from contact as a blocker on offense.
What Auburn fans haven’t seen just yet are the hands that complete that package.
“He’s given us some options and some versatility in our offense that will allow us to do some different things, and really and truly showcase our tight end position,” Porter said on Thursday during the Auburn assistants’ fall meeting with the media. “Yesterday was his first time dropping a pass. Up until then, he hadn’t dropped one. So that showed us that we can rely on his hands.”
Wilson is working at tight end and H-Back along with sophomore John Samuel Shenker.
Auburn is replacing Chandler Cox there at that flexible position for the 11th man in Gus Malzahn’s offensive scheme. Bruising blockers like Jay Prosch have played that position, as have lengthy leapers like C.J. Uzomah.
For Porter, Wilson has shown ability to be like both — which could prove pivotal for Auburn both in making big plays and in allowing the team to run hurry-up, no-huddle pace without needing to substitute at blocker for a pass-catcher between plays at H-Back and tight end.
“That’s actually a plus for us offensively, because it allows us to stay in one personnel grouping and run our whole offense,” Porter put it simply.
Auburn doesn’t kick off its season against Oregon until Aug. 31, and what Wilson can do in prime time remains to be seen, but in the last week since an injury brought down wide receiver Anthony Schwartz and veteran receivers Will Hastings and Eli Stove have been limited by coaches’ decision, Wilson has been among those turning heads and stepping up for the Auburn offense in practice, per the players.
“Jay Jay Wilson, man,” Martin nodded after that Wednesday scrimmage, when asked who’s stepping up. “He’s a baller. He hasn’t dropped a ball. He dropped one today. It was a pass-breakup, but it was his first ball he dropped.
“I feel like Jay Jay is going to have a good year.”
On top of his play on the field, offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said he’s liked how Wilson has acclimated himself in the Auburn locker room ahead of his one-and-done season at Auburn.
Dillingham was an offensive assistant at Arizona State from 2014-15 and was there when Wilson was there for his freshman year in 2015, before Dillingham left for Memphis and ultimately Auburn.
“I’m most pleased with how he’s come in and become one of the guys,” Dillingham said. “And when you transfer in somewhere and you’re a senior, and you’re going to be there one year, it’s one of those deals where you’ve got to believe in your guys, and your guys have to believe in you. And I think our players want to see him succeed. And that’s half the battle when you’re coming in.
“From an athletic standpoint, really good athlete, really good hands, physical in the box,” Dillingham added. “He’s what you want.”
Auburn fans can say the same.