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March 26, 2014
AUBURN | Sammie Coates may have been the best receiver in America last season, but something beyond his control slowed him down in November and beyond.
He didn't have a consistent complement.
Coates' 88-yard touchdown against Arkansas on Nov. 2 once again made him the national leader in yards per catch. Auburn didn't throw much against Tennessee a week later, but things clearly were different as Auburn raced into Amen Corner -- teams began re-tooling their coverage schemes with the sole intent of limiting Coates' opportunities.
It worked. The 6-foot-2 wideout didn't crack the 100-yard plateau during Auburn's final four games.
A solution is at hand. Top-rated junior college prospect D'haquille Williams and four-star Stanton Truitt are combining with Auburn's existing receiver assets, many of them new to the limelight in 2013, to create headaches for the defense.
"It's going to be hard to roll coverage to one side to try to stop one player because we've got so much talent in one room," Coates said Tuesday. "It's going to be crazy when everybody gets it together."
That process is into its second week. Williams has been the biggest story -- a 216-pound wideout who has the power to knock defenders on their heels if he can't accelerate away from them. Where Coates is a quintessential deep threat, track speed combined with elite jumping ability and long arms, Williams looks like a made-to-order possession receiver who can draw defensive interest inside of 20 yards.
It could be an epic collaboration.
"(Williams) is a competitor; he hates to lose. I saw that because I was his host on recruiting visits," wideout Quan Bray said. "Just talking to him and getting to know what type of guy he is, just seeing how much stuff he's got built up inside of him to let it all go on the field to be the No. 1 guy coming out of JUCO, I see that he's a baller."
Yet the effect extends well beyond those two players.
Nick Marshall spoke last weekend of Williams being a player "who can make a play for you when the ball is in the air." Playmakers subtract complexity when it comes to a quarterback's job.
The other receivers who feel an urge to compete at a higher level also are affected. Ricardo Louis, hero of the Georgia game, is fighting for a starting position. Bray wants to start as a senior. Guys like Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Melvin Ray want more opportunities in 2014.
Dominic Walker wants to make his mark after spending his 2013 season on the scout team. And Jaylon Denson, who started four games before suffering a torn patellar tendon against LSU, will be back in the summer with designs on reclaiming his spot.
Auburn's receiving corps is deeper than it's been in years.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee believes that's a game-changing development.
"We're two-deep at every position. Some we're three, which is a really, really good luxury to have because we can really get practice reps," Lashlee said. "We can really push them, and not only that, they compete. They push each other. We've got some younger guys … you expect them to make great strides. You expect guys like a Sammie Coates or Quan Bray and those guys to continue to improve. And then you add new guys like Duke and Stanton. We've got some options and we obviously need more than one to step up. And I think they will."