What's holding back the Auburn football wide receiver group under first-year coach Hugh Freeze?

AUBURN — Auburn football held its second spring scrimmage Friday, and coach Hugh Freeze tried something new.

Instead of having coaches and assistants on the field with the players to give them tips and make sure they're performing properly, Freeze pulled aside all his staff.

It gave him an opportunity to see how his players, specifically his wide receivers, reacted without guidance.

"I think it’s a great test for us there," Freeze said Monday. "And we’ve still got some improving to do on alignment and assignment. And technique, of course."

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Freeze said March 20 that two positions stuck out in his mind as needing the most work: Receivers and quarterbacks.

Just over a week later, the QBs have seemed to turn a corner; Freeze sang the praises of redshirt freshman Holden Geriner on Monday, one week after he wished the position group was "further along." And at practice that day, Geriner was among the first group during the offense's pace drill. TJ Finley was behind him and Robby Ashford, who came out with the first unit March 20, was with the third group.

But for all the progression from the quarterbacks, the receivers have lagged. Freeze attributes it to new requirements from his coaching staff. Whether its being able to read the defense and decide which RPO should be run or how to counter a certain technique from a defensive back, Freeze explained it's all new.

“Not as much as I would like," Freeze said Monday when asked if the receivers were progressing well, also citing injuries that were holding players back.

Auburn football wide receivers coach Marcus Davis during spring practice at the Woltosz Football Performance Center on March 22, 2023.
Auburn football wide receivers coach Marcus Davis during spring practice at the Woltosz Football Performance Center on March 22, 2023.

The receiving corps at spring practice is simultaneously a veteran, yet inexperienced, group. Cincinnati transfer Nick Mardner is the only player at the position that wasn't on the roster last season, but among sophomores like Camden Brown, Jay Fair and Omari Kelly, there's plenty of ability left untapped.

Brown, Fair and Kelly collectively caught 14 passes for a combined 213 yards and two touchdowns in 2022. And others like Landen King, who originally came to the Plains in 2021 as a 6-foot-5 tight end before transitioning to receiver, posted low numbers last season.

Freeze recently talked about how much he prioritizes having tall, lanky receivers with large catch radiuses. In addition to King, Brown is 6-3 and Florida International transfer tight end Rivaldo Fairweather, who is a threat in the passing game, is listed at 6-4.

"They’ve got to play without us on the field," Freeze said. "It wasn’t as far a step forward as I would have liked for us to have seen with (the coaches) off, but I’m confident we can help them get better this week."

Asked if he'd be interested in adding a receiver or two via the transfer portal when it opens after spring practice wraps up, Freeze didn't mince words.

"We are open to the portal business for anyone that fits our culture at Auburn and can help us improve our team quickly," he said.

Richard Silva is the Auburn athletics beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at rsilva@gannett.com or on Twitter @rich_silva18.

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Auburn football: Receivers must improve through injuries, inexperience