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Who will emerge from Auburn’s quarterbachttps://www.al.com/auburnfootball/#/0k competition this spring?

By Tom Green | tgreen@al.com

Updated 9:42 AM; Today 7:00 AM

Malik Willis spent two seasons as Jarrett Stdham's backup. Now, the junior will be one of four players competing for Auburn's starting quarterback job this spring. (Getty Images)

We’re taking a look at each position group as Auburn prepares to open spring practice on March 18. The first of a 10-part series looks at the quarterbacks.

Gus Malzahn is set for one of the more intriguing quarterback battles of his tenure on the Plains as the Tigers begin their quest to replace two-year starter Jarrett Stidham. It’ll be a wide-open competition from the jump featuring a two-year backup and a trio of freshmen vying for a crack at the starting job.

Malzahn plans to give a “fair chance” to all four candidates, with the hope of establishing a pecking order after A-Day as the team heads into the offseason. He hasn’t ruled out letting the quarterbacks go live — something that has usually been limited to newcomers during Malzahn’s time as head coach but at times has been utilized during offseason competitions — though that may not come until the calendar turns to April.

Regardless, this will be the hottest topic of the coming months as Auburn prepares for a pivotal 2019 campaign, and all eyes will be on the Tigers’ quarterbacks this offseason.

Projected depth chart:

Malik Willis, junior, 5-of-7 passing for 24 yards and 12 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown OR

Joey Gatewood, redshirt freshman: 0-of-1 passing and three carries for 28 yards OR

Bo Nix, freshman OR

Cord Sandberg, redshirt freshman, 1-of-1 passing for 22 yards and three carries for 35 yards

Departed: Jarrett Stidham, 224-of-369 passing for 2,794 yards, 18 touchdowns, five interceptions and three rushing touchdowns

Due to arrive in the fall: N/A

Outlook: For the eighth time in 10 seasons at Auburn, first as offensive coordinator from 2009-2011 and then as head coach since 2013, Malzahn will be tasked with naming a new starting quarterback in the offseason. After two years of relatively prolific production, including just the second 3,000-yard passing season in program history, Stidham is off to the NFL — leaving the Tigers with a quartet of relatively inexperienced options at quarterback this spring.

Unlike years past, there’s no JUCO transfer coming in, no real experienced veteran presence — and no clear-cut favorite to win the starting job ahead of August’s season opener against Oregon in Arlington, Texas.

While Malzahn wants to establish a pecking order at the position after A-Day, Willis will likely enter the spring atop the depth chart as the quarterback most likely to get the initial reps with the first-team offense after spending the majority of the last two seasons at Stidham’s backup. Despite appearing in 15 games over the last two seasons, Willis has only attempted 14 passes while largely chewing up clock late in games with his legs or by handing the ball off.

Willis has the tools to be the kind of dual-threat option that could thrive in Malzahn’s system, but after showing some early flashes as a freshman in 2017, Willis appeared to struggle making the right decision on zone-reads as a sophomore. How much he can improve on that entering his third year in the offense will go a long way in deciding whether he can be that next man up at quarterback.

He’ll have his share of competition this spring, especially from redshirt freshman Gatewood, whose physical stature and skillset had Malzahn recalling Heisman winner Cam Newton when Gatewood signed in December 2017, and true freshman early enrollee Nix, the reigning Alabama Mr. Football.

Gatewood struggled last spring, and the start of his freshman season was put on hold due to a thumb injury. He impressed in his limited playing time in the Music City Bowl, when he made his college debut, and he was one of the standouts of the Tigers’ bowl prep — practices that have often served as launching pads for underclassmen, including running back Boobee Whitlow prior to last season and edge-rusher Nick Coe the year prior. Nix, meanwhile, is a highly touted five-star prospect who is the Tigers’ highest-rated high school quarterback of Malzahn’s tenure. Given his prolific high school career and his pedigree (he’s the son of former Auburn great Patrick Nix), Bo Nix has the chance to be the future face of the program. The question, of course, is whether the future starts now.

The darkhorse in the competition is Sandberg, the former minor league baseball player who joined the team last fall and appeared in just one game, against FCS program Alabama State, and largely served as an older, veteran-type voice in the room. Sandberg will get his chance to compete but winning the starting job would certainly be considered an upset.

Running back 

https://www.al.com/auburnfootball/2019/03/auburns-quest-to-get-run-game-back-on-track-starts-this-spring.html

Auburn’s quest to get run game back on track starts this spring

Today 1:00 PM

After leading Auburn in rushing as a redshirt freshman, Boobee Whitlow will lead a group of running backs looking to reestablish the program's once-dominant run game. (Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)

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By Tom Green | tgreen@al.com

We’re taking a look at each position group as Auburn prepares to open spring practice on March 18. The second of a 10-part series looks at the running backs.

After seeing its streak of nine consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher come to an end, Auburn will look to get its ground game back on track in 2019 with a familiar cast of characters and a new position coach in former Tigers great Cadillac Williams. There’s ample talent at the position, and the group should benefit from an improved offensive line, but reestablishing the run will be one of Auburn’s top priorities on offense this coming season.

Projected depth chart:

Boobee Whitlow, redshirt sophomore, 150 carries, 787 yards and six touchdowns

Kam Martin, senior, 103 carries, 458 yards and one touchdown

Shaun Shivers, sophomore, 70 carries, 371 yards and three touchdowns

Malik Miller, redshirt junior, 19 carries, 68 yards and three touchdowns

D.J. Williams, freshman

Departed: Asa Martin (transferred to Miami)

Due to arrive in the fall: Mark-Antony Richards, four-star athlete

Outlook: Auburn’s backfield fell short of expectations in 2018, with the program’s record streak of nine straight seasons with a 1,000-yard back coming to an end. There were multiple factors playing into that, including early-season struggles along the offensive line, some minor injuries that cost Whitlow some time in the backfield and a general shift in approach to the position, with the Tigers leaning more on a by-committee approach to running back instead of establishing a clear-cut featured option.

Kam Martin led Auburn’s running backs in starts but still had eight games with single-digit carries. Still, the rising senior looked more comfortable in a complementary role alongside Whitlow, who led the team in rushing in his first season of action, and Shivers, who established himself as a solid third option during his freshman campaign.

Whitlow has the chance to be the type of featured back the Tigers are accustomed to, so long as he can stay healthy. The redshirt sophomore has a compelling skillset, and former SEC Offensive Player of the Year Kerryon Johnson believes the Lafayette native has a chance to be even better than he was during his three seasons on the Plains from 2015-17. Shivers, despite his compact size, proved to be a physical presence out of the backfield, and his role is sure to expand as a sophomore.

The Tigers will also have redshirt junior Miller, who emerged as the go-to option on obvious passing downs due to his acumen with pass-blocking, and will introduce true freshman early enrollee D.J. Williams, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound four-star prospect out of Florida.

How the backfield shakes out will be interesting to see, especially after Gus Malzahn shook up his coaching staff this offseason, bringing on Cadillac Williams as running backs coach to replace longtime assistant Tim Horton (now at Vanderbilt) while also taking over play-calling duties full-time. Following, by far, the program’s worst season on the ground since Malzahn took over as head coach, expect the Tigers to return to form in 2019.

Wide receiver 

https://www.al.com/auburnfootball/2019/03/wide-receiver-again-a-strength-for-auburns-offense-this-spring.html

Wide receiver again a strength for Auburn’s offense this spring

By Tom Green | tgreen@al.com

Updated 8:43 AM; Today 7:00 AM

Rising sophomore receivers Seth Williams (left) and Anthony Schwartz are poised to be Auburn's go-to receivers in 2019. (Getty Images)

We’re taking a look at each position group as Auburn prepares to open spring practice on March 18. The third of a 10-part series looks at the receiving corps.

Auburn loses its top-two receivers from last year’s team in all-time receptions leader Ryan Davis and deep threat Darius Slayton, but the Tigers return ample talent in the receiving corps.

With a talented group that includes its share of rising stars (Anthony Schwartz and Seth Williams) and veteran presence (Will Hastings, Eli Stove and Sal Cannella), Auburn’s receiving corps should be in good shape even as the team tries to break in a new starting quarterback this offseason.

Projected depth chart:

Split end:

Seth Williams, sophomore, 26 receptions, 534 yards and five touchdowns.

Shedrick Jackson, sophomore, two receptions, 15 yards.

Kolbi Fuqua, redshirt freshman.

Flanker:

Anthony Schwartz, sophomore, 22 receptions, 357 yards and two touchdowns; 27 carries, 211 yards and five touchdowns.

Eli Stove, redshirt junior, three receptions, 17 yards.

Jashawn Sheffield, freshman

Slot:

Will Hastings, redshirt senior OR

Matthew Hill, redshirt freshman, zero receptions; two carries, 21 yards.

Ja’Varrius Johnson, freshman

Big slot:

Sal Cannella, senior, 12 receptions, 111 yards and three touchdowns.

Marquis McClain, redshirt junior

Departed: Ryan Davis (69 receptions, 546 yards and one touchdown), Darius Slayton (35 receptions, 670 yards and five touchdowns)

Due to arrive in the fall: N/A

Outlook:

The departures of Davis, the program’s all-time leader in receptions and a favorite target of Jarrett Stidham the last two seasons, and Slayton, the team’s go-to vertical option in 2018, would normally be big losses for Auburn’s offense, but the team has an abundance of riches at receiver returning in 2019.

While many of the Tigers’ wide receiver spots are interchangeable, providing plenty of lineup possibilities for Gus Malzahn to tinker with while calling plays, this is a group that features to clear rising stars — and welcomes the return of two other established playmakers. Schwartz and Williams will look to build off breakthrough debut seasons in 2018 and should see their roles expand in 2019, especially considering they should fill right into the flanker and split end spots vacated by Davis and Slayton, respectively. Schwartz -- like running back Shaun Shivers -- is not expected to participate in spring practice as he focuses “100 percent” on track this spring.

Auburn will also get back Hastings and Stove at full strength in 2019, though Hastings likely won’t be fully cleared for spring after undergoing a second ACL surgery in early October, leaving open the door for redshirt-freshman Hill, the highest-rated receiver signee in Auburn’s 2018 class and a former top-100 prospect overall. Stove, though, could be a wild car after being eased back into action last season — utilizing the four-game redshirt rule while making his return from a spring ACL tear. While Stove and Schwartz play similar positions, Schwartz’s versatility could lend to Stove seeing more snaps at flanker.

There’s also Cannella, a senior who saw his production increase considerably in 2018. He will return in the big slot looking to build off his second season on the Plains. It will also be interesting to see what kind of roles, if any, freshman early enrollees Johnson and Sheffield can carve out this spring.

Regardless, Auburn’s receiving corps should be the strength of the offense this spring and provide considerable weapons for the four quarterbacks vying for the starting job.

Edited by toddc
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#TeamGatewood

Also i think DJ Williams may overtake everyone and be the next star of our backfield.

Had a dream about Auburn football last night and Williams was our star RB. Thats what i will stick with until it happens. Or not.

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I really hope to see a healthy rotation at RB this year.  Boobie, KMart, and Worm are all solid and now have some experience.  If DJ or MAR show up and show out right away, then that's icing!

I honestly believe that the QB race is a legit toss up.  I'm not sure where it's gonna go at this point.

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5 hours ago, Auburn2Eugene said:

TeamGatewood

 

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It’d be awesome to see the QBs live all the way through Aday but I doubt we’ll see that unfortunately.  It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if Nix had to sit a season or two because Gatewood or Willis found their way.  The spots I’m interested in seeing that aren’t being talked about are TE and whatever position you want to call Chandler Cox HB/FB.  Losing Prosch in 2015 was a big reason the offense struggled and I worry losing Cox could have the same impact.  Is this where Joiner will end up or is he more of a TE?  Will it be Nigh?  Shneker played well as a freshman last year but will Fromm and Deal be able to add anything this year?  If Gus actually utilizes either one of these positions this season it could open up all sorts of options for the play action run game.

Edited by Win4AU

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21 hours ago, Win4AU said:

It’d be awesome to see the QBs live all the way through Aday but I doubt we’ll see that unfortunately.  It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if Nix had to sit a season or two because Gatewood or Willis found their way.  The spots I’m interested in seeing that aren’t being talked about are TE and whatever position you want to call Chandler Cox HB/FB.  Losing Prosch in 2015 was a big reason the offense struggled and I worry losing Cox could have the same impact.  Is this where Joiner will end up or is he more of a TE?  Will it be Nigh?  Shneker played well as a freshman last year but will Fromm and Deal be able to add anything this year?  If Gus actually utilizes either one of these positions this season it could open up all sorts of options for the play action run game.

Wouldn't expect too much from Deal this year coming off an ACL tear

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On 3/11/2019 at 2:21 PM, Auburn2Eugene said:

#TeamGatewood

Also i think DJ Williams may overtake everyone and be the next star of our backfield.

Had a dream about Auburn football last night and Williams was our star RB. Thats what i will stick with until it happens. Or not.

If it's a freshman, I'd say Mark-Antony Richards has the better chance. By all reports, he's the more complete back, and has been compared favorably to Kerryon Johnson.

But I still say Shivers is going to have a breakout year, even though he's not participating in spring camp. He likely won't be the starter, but with his explosive ability combined with the pop that comes out of his 5'6 body, I wouldn't be surprised to see him take several to the house from 40-50 plus, not to mention KO returns (if teams kick it to him). If he can field punts consistently, I'd love to see him back there returning them, too, because one wiggle and he's flat gone. I'd love to see him and Shwartz on the field at the same time, fake to one going one way and give to the other going the other way, maybe even with Boobie going up the middle for a triple option...especially if Gatewood is QB, because then you've got four dynamic runners and no way to tell who has the ball.

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Team Gatewood all the way!  I hope Joey proves me right. Nick Fitzgerald at MSU was not a dynamic passer whatsoever, but his strong legs and good speed made life difficult for defenses during his time at MSU. I think Gatewood could be a similar type of QB, but with more speed. I hope Joey tears it up during spring ball and rises to the top of depth chart.

I will be totally honest in that I do not know as much as many of you do about the skill set of QB position. I am pulling hard for Joey and hope he is the man. He could be a nightmare for defenses when he takes off with the ball. I would not want to be a DB trying to tackle him head on.  I will be watching closely this position and will be rooting for Joey all the way!

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55 minutes ago, Rednilla said:

If it's a freshman, I'd say Mark-Antony Richards has the better chance. By all reports, he's the more complete back, and has been compared favorably to Kerryon Johnson.

But I still say Shivers is going to have a breakout year, even though he's not participating in spring camp. He likely won't be the starter, but with his explosive ability combined with the pop that comes out of his 5'6 body, I wouldn't be surprised to see him take several to the house from 40-50 plus, not to mention KO returns (if teams kick it to him). If he can field punts consistently, I'd love to see him back there returning them, too, because one wiggle and he's flat gone. I'd love to see him and Shwartz on the field at the same time, fake to one going one way and give to the other going the other way, maybe even with Boobie going up the middle for a triple option...especially if Gatewood is QB, because then you've got four dynamic runners and no way to tell who has the ball.

The “quadruple option”, Rednilla named it, write it down folks! 😝 I love it!

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we will likely have the fastest receiver corps in the SEC and maybe all of college football. Glad to see Joey wearing #1 jersey....I think big things are just around the corner for him. IF joey can just be an average to slightly above average passer and can master the zone read offense, he could be a very dangerous QB and one that opposing defenses will dread to have to face.

We need to have our number 1 QB & backup QB each capable of running Gus-ball effectively with little drop off from each other. I am pumped to see spring ball get underway. I hope the QB competition will be highly competitive with the cream  rising to the top. This is how the Doc sees the QB position unfolding with the pecking order that will be established by the end of spring ball.

1. Gatewood: I really think his time has come to step up and become the number 1 QB with his legs and arm. If I was a LB or DB, I would cringe at the thought of trying to bring him down in the open field.

2. Bo: It will be close between him and Joey, and he will be capable of stepping in if Joey should be sidelined for whatever reason.

3. Cord: I see Cord becoming a solid backup QB that could run the offense if something happens to Joey & Bo.

4. Willis: I just do not see Willis panning out as a starting QB in the SEC. I do not think his decision making skills are there like the other 3 QBs.  He may move to another position such as DB or receiver. I could be wrong and he could blow the competition away. I just do not see this happening for Malik.

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On 3/11/2019 at 3:21 PM, Auburn2Eugene said:

#TeamGatewood

Also i think DJ Williams may overtake everyone and be the next star of our backfield.

Had a dream about Auburn football last night and Williams was our star RB. Thats what i will stick with until it happens. Or not.

I am right there with you with TeamGatewood!

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Team Corgi to the rescue!

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On 3/11/2019 at 2:01 PM, toddc said:

While many of the Tigers’ wide receiver spots are interchangeable, providing plenty of lineup possibilities for Gus Malzahn to tinker with while calling plays

Something tells me Tom Green hasn't watched much Auburn Football. While our WR position is stacked with a sick amount of talent... That doesn't make the spots interchangeable. 

Maybe he has missed the last 7 years. Perhaps he has missed what former WRs have said... 

The only way our WR spots are "Interchangeable" is if it's opposite day.

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On 3/15/2019 at 8:21 PM, doc4aday said:

we will likely have the fastest receiver corps in the SEC and maybe all of college football. Glad to see Joey wearing #1 jersey....I think big things are just around the corner for him. IF joey can just be an average to slightly above average passer and can master the zone read offense, he could be a very dangerous QB and one that opposing defenses will dread to have to face.

We need to have our number 1 QB & backup QB each capable of running Gus-ball effectively with little drop off from each other. I am pumped to see spring ball get underway. I hope the QB competition will be highly competitive with the cream  rising to the top. This is how the Doc sees the QB position unfolding with the pecking order that will be established by the end of spring ball.

1. Gatewood: I really think his time has come to step up and become the number 1 QB with his legs and arm. If I was a LB or DB, I would cringe at the thought of trying to bring him down in the open field.

2. Bo: It will be close between him and Joey, and he will be capable of stepping in if Joey should be sidelined for whatever reason.

3. Cord: I see Cord becoming a solid backup QB that could run the offense if something happens to Joey & Bo.

4. Willis: I just do not see Willis panning out as a starting QB in the SEC. I do not think his decision making skills are there like the other 3 QBs.  He may move to another position such as DB or receiver. I could be wrong and he could blow the competition away. I just do not see this happening for Malik.

4

Agree. We've not seen much but i do recall Joey not being afraid of contact when taking off. 

I know the conventional and popular answer is whichever QB looks the best but I also think it should be more about what style of play is going to give us the best chance. I know Bo is capable of running but I certainly want him in the pocket more throwing and torching defenses vs. the zone read. If we're going to be more of a zone read team then i'd want to see Joey. If Joey can be an average passer then i think with our weapons on offense we could win some games. With still having questions about the OL, Joey's skillset of running when things break down in the pocket could be big. Regarding Malik....just seemed like we really killed his confidence and momentum with how he was used in games. I think he'll probably get the first look at QB since he's been here longer b/c that's how Gus does it but i hope that if there are clear signs that we'd better served with Joey or Bo...we move on to see out of those two who will get a chance to start. But i'm sure knowing who the starter go on for a while. 

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On 3/11/2019 at 4:19 PM, AUpreacherman22 said:

I really hope to see a healthy rotation at RB this year.  Boobie, KMart, and Worm are all solid and now have some experience.  If DJ or MAR show up and show out right away, then that's icing!

I honestly believe that the QB race is a legit toss up.  I'm not sure where it's gonna go at this point.

from what I am hearing and reading, Gatewood is vastly improved since last spring and is gaining a lot of attention.  I am team Gatewood all the way!  IF he can continue to play solid ball, the sky is the limit for him. Could be Cam Newton part II. Him and Felipe Franks of UF are the biggest QBs in the SEC.  I like to compare Gatewood a bit to Nick Fitzgerald former MSU QB.  I think Gatewood could be a better passer and faster to boot. I think Joey is going to bring us a lot of Joy!

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As I was quoted earlier - Gatewood should play vs Oregon if the QB battle is close.  Why I was asked, "Gatewood should start so that if the OL is shakey and it prob will be,  against a superior D Line (our OL vs a very experienced DL),  Gatewood has a better chance at staying healthy. "

It's all about getting ready and being healthy for SEC play.     Our season doesn't live and die with the oregon game.

 

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On 3/27/2019 at 11:25 AM, NickFairleyFan90 said:

Is anybody else looking forward to the Wide Receiver battle this year?

Well, evidently McClain and Canella have stepped up as leaders, and Stove and Hastings are coming back, and every other pass being a screen to RD is off the table, so hell yeah, that should be interesting to watch develop. It might not be pretty. Might be downright ugly. But it should be interesting. 

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I cannot quote my source, but it is a very reliable source.......Gus mentioned Gatewood in the same breath as Cam Newton of which is an awesome thing for sure!

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On 4/1/2019 at 11:54 AM, doc4aday said:

I cannot quote my source, but it is a very reliable source.......Gus mentioned Gatewood in the same breath as Cam Newton of which is an awesome thing for sure!

But was that breath "Gatewood is no Cam Newton..."

 

HAHAHA

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4 hours ago, LKEEL75 said:

But was that breath "Gatewood is no Cam Newton..."

 

HAHAHA

Time will tell my friend!......Gatewood could really surprise a lot of folks in  a very good way. If I am wrong I will have no problem admitting it. Let's see what happens.

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16 hours ago, doc4aday said:

Time will tell my friend!......Gatewood could really surprise a lot of folks in  a very good way. If I am wrong I will have no problem admitting it. Let's see what happens.

Yeah I know.  I was just trying to be funny.  I hope he & Nix have the next few years locked down with great QB play

 

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On 4/5/2019 at 9:55 AM, LKEEL75 said:

Yeah I know.  I was just trying to be funny.  I hope he & Nix have the next few years locked down with great QB play

 

I do like your humor my friend! 😎  One or both of these young men will have some great moments no doubt before they leave our beloved Auburn!

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On 3/23/2019 at 11:20 PM, Beaker said:

As I was quoted earlier - Gatewood should play vs Oregon if the QB battle is close.  Why I was asked, "Gatewood should start so that if the OL is shakey and it prob will be,  against a superior D Line (our OL vs a very experienced DL),  Gatewood has a better chance at staying healthy. "

It's all about getting ready and being healthy for SEC play.     Our season doesn't live and die with the oregon game.

 

Once Gatewood has established himself as a QB who will run you over and think nothing about it, the offense will open up and  start putting up nice numbers like they are capable of doing. Tackling Gatewood should be something akin to tackling a defensive end but worse once he gets a head full of steam. Gatewood could be one of  the most physical QBs in the conferences.  I know its a long ways out and things could happen to change all of this, but I love the possibilities Gatewood could bring to the table.

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