“We look at every year as a new year. Every team has its own journey, and ultimately we want them to leave the program as better people by their experience during the season. We really just want them to come to practice every day with a teachable spirit. That's all we ask of any of them every year.”
- Auburn head coach Adam Winegarden
The Auburn Tigers went into their final regular season game of 2018 with a chance to win the region. In order to get back to that spot in 2019, they’ll have to do so with some new playmakers on offense.
The Tigers’ quarterback position remains up for grabs going into the new year. Sophomore Patrick McGlon stepped up to play at the end of last year in place of Griffin Speaks, who has since graduated.
Despite his experience, the sophomore McGlon is in a race with Eufaula transfer Matthew Caldwell, a junior who has impressed in the time he’s been with the Tigers.
“I think they're both pro-style type quarterbacks,” Auburn head coach Adam Winegarden said. “They both don't have a ton of experience, so I think it's just a matter of trying to get them as many reps as possible to where they can have successes and failures and learn from them.”
Auburn’s other offensive skill positions are filled with players who have shown flashes but now must fill larger roles.
At running back, Winegarden pointed to junior Tristan Pittman, sophomores Killian Massey and Bradley Harper, junior JonMichael Finley and senior Aaron Diggs as being in the mix. Winegarden also said senior Paxton Gordon will make contributions at the b-back position.
Like the running back position, the Tigers graduated several of their established receivers from 2018. Ja'Zavion “Zay” Ray returns for his junior year and has all the makings of being the Tigers’ top target in the passing game this fall. Additionally, Winegarden is counting on Billy Meadows, Judson Waters, transfer Bryson Clague and Jaden Heard to make plays at the position.
Up front, expect Cort Bradley, Kevon Carr, David Hixon, Creighton Williams, Tobias Sanders, Kolt Ashe and Rusty McKinnell to bolster the offensive line.
Winegarden explained that when a team is good all the way up the middle of its lineup, the results are generally positive. Judging from the talent Auburn has in those positions, the Tigers will threaten to capture its third consecutive 10-win season.
On the inside of the defensive line, the Tigers have Kincaid Rickerson, Lee Gregg and KeJuan Cason in the mix. The linebacker corps includes several key pieces, including Diggs, former receiver Orlando Dean, Amaury Hutchinson and Will Sorrells. Diggs and Hutchinson return as starters from last year’s squad.
The Tigers are coming off a season in which they had four shutouts and gave up just under 11 points per game. Auburn’s dominant defense last season is a continued trend during the Winegarden era, and for Diggs, it’s not easy to understand why.
“We're some dogs. We're athletes,” Diggs said. “(The continued success is) something big. It's definitely a motivational-type thing. Every year, we have good stats. Just to carry the momentum and to do better is something big for us.”
The back of Auburn’s defense has some of the most talented players on the entire team. Noah Warren returns at safety for the Tigers, and three-star recruit Omari Porter is back again at cornerback. Quay Helms, who was Auburn’s nickel back in 2018, is back in the secondary along with Harper.
Porter has stepped forward as one of the Tigers’ true leaders going into a new season. He’s well aware of how close Auburn got to something special in 2018, and he and his teammates are set on taking the next step this time around.
“This offseason's been more about the team and how I'm trying to prepare them and the other leaders on the team to be at the same mindset that we had last year, which was a state championship,” Porter said. “Unfortunately, we fell short of that, but I feel like this year we have enough talent and the pieces to do that. All of my focus has really been geared to making my team better and bringing them up with me as I get better so we all get better as a team.”