What all we heard about Auburn football (and basketball recruiting) in Mobile
Roster management, more transfer talk, Senior Bowl chatter and two potential 2024 hoops commits highlight a packed notebook.
MOBILE — Derick Hall and Eku Leota didn’t play a single snap for Hugh Freeze.
But on Tuesday afternoon, Hall and Leota were playing football together again, and Freeze was watching from the sidelines.
Hall and Leota both had their Auburn helmets on — traditional navy face mask for Hall, orange face mask for Leota — while Freeze wore an On To Victory quarter-zip that has become one of his go-to pieces as the Tigers’ new head coach.
“I didn't get there early enough to beg them — I would have pleaded with them to stay with us longer, if possible,” Freeze said. “Obviously I didn't get to coach them, so I can't take credit for them. But the Auburn program did.”
As is tradition, the Auburn football coach was down in Mobile for the start of Senior Bowl practices. Hall and Leota are the Tigers’ two representatives in the annual draft prospect showcase, as Owen Pappoe had to pull out due to an injury.
But they weren’t alone, as members from Auburn’s past, present and future were all around. Auburn fans from the Mobile area dotted the stands at Hancock Whitney Stadium. Zac Etheridge was one of several Auburn assistant coaches there to see Hall and Leota, along with former defensive line guru Rodney Garner.
Hall and Leota are just two of what should be a decent-sized 2023 NFL Draft class from Auburn, which will include the likes of Pappoe, Tank Bigsby and Colby Wooden. And even though the Tigers had back-to-back losing seasons under the last coaching staff, the next-level interest in Auburn shows what kind of foundation is on the Plains.
“For years, Auburn has put guys in the NFL,” Freeze said. “Even with the lack of Auburn team success the last few years, it's still the case. Look, (Hall and Leota) have been incredible coming around the building, incredible human beings and great football players. Thrilled we can celebrate a little bit with them today.”
The Observer was on the scene Tuesday afternoon at the Senior Bowl and was able to talk with Freeze, Hall and Leota about a number of Auburn football topics.
Here’s a jam-packed newsletter on all of what we heard in Mobile — along with a bonus pair of basketball recruiting items to watch in the next few days.
Auburn wants to add another offensive lineman for 2023
Freeze hasn’t pulled any punches with how he’s felt about the roster he inherited at Auburn. On Tuesday, he repeated a lot of his same opinions about the quarterback room that you can read in yesterday’s newsletter.
He then compared the overall situation to his arrival at Ole Miss ahead of the 2012 campaign, when the Rebels were coming off a 4-8 and a 2-10 season.
“It's similar to the Ole Miss days, I think,” Freeze said. “It wasn't quite as depleted in the big men — the o-line and d-line spots — as this one was, for whatever reason. But I think you can recruit to Auburn.”
The first thing Freeze noticed with the roster was the same glaring weakness that everyone else saw — the lack of depth on the offensive line.
Auburn only had a handful of scholarship offensive linemen when he arrived, and only a small number of them had any experience. The new staff went right to work at helping fix that problem, quickly landing a trio of FBS transfers in Gunner Britton, Avery Jones and Dillon Wade while also signing one JUCO player and four high schoolers for the program’s biggest offensive line class in a long time.
“I have a certain belief in roster management and how to build a roster,” Freeze said. “I thought we got a really good mixture of young kids that we signed in high school — some that are mid-year enrollees — and obviously the portal guys who have played a lot of football, you're depending on them to play. No one gets a starting job, but you don't recruit those guys to sit around, for sure.”
Freeze said Auburn isn’t planning on being done yet up front, either. He said Tuesday that the Tigers will “still look for one more” during the second transfer portal period in May to get to the number he wants on the offensive line.
Auburn already became the first team in the transfer portal era to land three different 4-star transfers on the offensive line. Getting a fourth transfer at the position, of any caliber, would be an even more incredible reloading job by the new staff.
HC Hugh Freeze (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Taking on the challenge at Auburn ‘not for the faint of heart’
Freeze’s honesty about what’s going on in the early days at Auburn bled into some of his answers about recruiting, too.
The traditional National Signing Day is Wednesday, and the Tigers aren’t expected to do anything for the 2023 class other than officially announce 4-star running back Jeremiah Cobb — a non-early enrollee who wanted to sign with the rest of his teammates at Montgomery Catholic.
The focus has shifted to the 2024 and 2025 classes, which started with an absolutely massive Junior Day event this past weekend.