Auburn football Q&A on Byron Cowart, Nate Craig-Myers and John Franklin
Auburn isn't on the Florida Gators' schedule this year, but the Tigers have a lot of local/state connections. Auburn signed the area's top recruit in 2015 (Armwood defensive end Byron Cowart) and in 2016 (Tampa Catholic receiver Nate Craig-Myers).
With that in mind, Opelika-Auburn News beat writer Josh Vitale was kind enough to do a quick Q&A with me. If the name sounds familiar, it's because Vitale used to cover the Rays and the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs for the Charlotte Sun. Thanks to Josh for helping me out.
1. When Byron Cowart left Armwood High, he was the nation's top recruit (per Rivals), but he hasn't made a huge impact at Auburn yet. You wrote this spring that he spent some time at defensive tackle, not end. Is that his future with the Tigers? What kind of a role do you think he'll have this fall?
Vitale: Defensive tackle does seem to be Cowart's future at Auburn, and by all accounts, he transitioned well to the role this spring. Coaches and players alike agreed that his size and pass-rush ability should translate well to playing on the interior, rather than on the outside where he spent his first two seasons at Auburn. Cowart's career has gotten off to a disappointing start. Despite coming in as one of the most highly regarded defensive recruits in the nation, Cowart only has 12 tackles and one tackle for loss to his name. But defensive line coach Rodney Garner hasn't written him off, saying this spring that he places a lot of blame on national recruiting services for creating unrealistic expectations for recruits. Of course, all of this is still spring practice fodder until it is seen on the field. But going into the summer, it seems like Cowart has carved out at least a reserve defensive tackle role going into his junior campaign.
2. Former Pasco High/Tampa Catholic receiver Nate Craig-Myers had a huge performance in the spring game (five catches, 154 yards). Where do he and Lakewood High alum Ryan Davis rank on Auburn's receiving pecking order? What do you expect from them this fall, presumably with Jarrett Stidham at quarterback?
Vitale: Craig-Myers and Davis are in line to play a sizable role in Auburn's passing game this season, especially Craig-Myers. The former Tampa Catholic standout got off to a slow start as he freshman as he dealt with a number of nagging injuries, but he appears poised to open the season as the Tigers' No. 1 receiver in a passing game that is expected to take far more downfield shots under new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. Of Craig-Myers' five catches on A-Day, two went for more than 35 yards. Davis is sharing a crowded slot position with Will Hastings and Eli Stove, but he had more catches last season than any other player returning from last season. There's a chance he will also be used as a punt returner.
3. Florida State fans will remember John Franklin III, a former Seminoles quarterback who actually played the role of Auburn's Nick Marshall in practice before the title game. Will he see the field at all this fall?
Vitale: Franklin may see the field this fall, but there's a good chance it won't be at quarterback. Auburn moved the former signal-caller to wide receiver this spring, and it appears that is the position he will play come the fall. How much he actually contributes in that role remains to be seen, because he has no experience there. But he does have tremendous speed and a good arm, so it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see coach Gus Malzahn draw up a few gadget plays for Franklin.