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John Samuel Shenker leads Auburn's new-look group at H-back/tight end

By Tom Green | tgreen@al.com | Posted May 09, 2019 at 07:00 AM

6-8 minutes

With spring practice over AL.com is reviewing Auburn's depth chart position by position. The third of a 25-part series looks at the H-backs and tight ends.

With last year's crop of seniors at H-back and tight end, led by four-year starter Chandler Cox and converted lineman Tucker Brown, Auburn has a chance to remodel its approach at the two positions and consolidate them into a singular, more versatile role. 

John Samuel Shenker is set to lead that charge as a do-everything H-back/tight end, while some fresh faces pepper the rest of the depth chart behind him. 

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Post-spring depth chart

John Samuel Shenker: 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, redshirt sophomore

Spencer Nigh: 6-foot, 267 pounds, senior

Tyler Fromm: 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, freshman

Luke Deal: 6-foot-6, 251 pounds, freshman

Julie Bennett/AL.com

Gus Malzahn's take

"John has really stepped up. He really fits the mold of those freshmen — he doesn't really look like a freshman anymore. Now that Chandler is gone, he's really trying to establish himself as the guy. He's off to a really good start. He just needs all the reps he can get. His physicality is getting better. In high school, he was more of a split-out guy. It's been good from that standpoint."

Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

Starter

John Samuel Shenker ended spring atop the Tigers' depth chart at H-back/tight end, and the redshirt sophomore fits the mold for what Auburn wants to do in streamlining the two positions to help limit substitutions and thus help the offense maintain tempo this fall.

Shenker appeared in 12 games last season, recording three catches for 40 yards and a touchdown. On A-Day, the redshirt sophomore had three receptions for 18 yards. While he has shown the ability to make plays in the passing game, he can also serve as a lead-blocker out of the backfield and play with his hand in the dirt while lined up at tight end.

Julie Bennett/AL.com

What we wrote about John Samuel Shenker

Julie Bennett/AL.com

Backup

Spencer Nigh (99), a senior walk-on, was a backup H-back last season and appeared in all 13 games primarily on special teams. Nigh is a more prototypical blocking H-back, and he saw his share of first-team reps throughout the spring's scrimmages.

AL.com graphic/Photo courtesy 247Sports

Next wave

Three-star tight end Tyler Fromm enrolled on the Plains this spring, and while the 6-foot-5, 218-pounder is a more polished receiving tight end, he has the chance to contribute as a freshman if he continues to improve as a blocker. 

AL.com graphic/Photo courtesy 247Sports

Auburn doubled up on tight ends with its 2019 recruiting class, with three-star prospect Luke Deal joining Fromm as part of the Tigers' signing class. Deal also enrolled early, but he tore his ACL while practicing with the team during December's bowl preparations. The exact timeline for his return to the field remains to be seen, though he was seen doing some light jogging late during spring practices.

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Summer arrivals

Arizona State graduate transfer Jay Jay Wilson is set to join Auburn this summer. Wilson, who committed to Auburn back in January, will bring some added experience to the position for the Tigers. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder played tight end for the Sun Devils during his first three seasons, finishing with five catches for 97 yards and three touchdowns. He moved to linebacker for the 2018 season and appeared in just four games, totaling 11 tackles while utilizing the NCAA's new redshirt rule.

Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

Quotable

"We're going to do our best this spring to keep 11 guys on the field without changing a whole bunch of personnel. That's a position that's in a little bit of transition, but I think it's a good thing moving forward. Now I will say this, with Chandler Cox, he's a tough guy to replace. He was a four-year starter and a coach on the field. He made things right when things weren't right sometimes. That's big shoes to fill for him." -- Gus Malzahn

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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37 minutes ago, McLoofus said:

Optimistic about Shenker. He looked good in limited action last year I thought. 

He’s a threat in the passing game for sure.  Gus usually needs a guy like Cox and Prosch to be successful in the run blocking game for this offense to really hum.  I’m definitely excited to have an actual TE game plan hopefully.  

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3 minutes ago, Win4AU said:

He’s a threat in the passing game for sure.  Gus usually needs a guy like Cox and Prosch to be successful in the run blocking game for this offense to really hum.  I’m definitely excited to have an actual TE game plan hopefully.  

Seems we have way more options than we've had in years, especially with Wilson coming in. 

Probably just a matter of which one(s) Gus trusts from a mental standpoint. Cox wasn't even a particularly great blocker for most of his career, but he at least knew his assignments. And, really, we had nobody behind him. 

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7 hours ago, McLoofus said:

Seems we have way more options than we've had in years, especially with Wilson coming in. 

Probably just a matter of which one(s) Gus trusts from a mental standpoint. Cox wasn't even a particularly great blocker for most of his career, but he at least knew his assignments. And, really, we had nobody behind him. 

I was always guilty of noticing the blocks Cox missed far more than the ones he made

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2 hours ago, alexava said:

I was always guilty of noticing the blocks Cox missed far more than the ones he made

He made far more than he missed. The good ones go unnoticed. Damn near any TD Auburn scored he was the one throwing the key block

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12 hours ago, Sizzle said:

He made far more than he missed. The good ones go unnoticed. Damn near any TD Auburn scored he was the one throwing the key block

He made a lot of good blocks and made a huge leap in his final year. He got drafted, so obviously the NFL liked what they saw. And like I said, he knew his assignments and attempted the correct block. His technique was just sorely lacking. He did that thing where he put his head down and tried to explode through guys and often just completely whiffed. 

Damned good pass catcher, too. Just a great all around athlete. And a sufficient blocker by 2018. Huge fan and I actually was a big cheerleader for him when folks were saying things like "Don't ever let Chandler Cox touch the ball again". But he wasn't the blocker that Prosch and Eric Smith were, and not quite the big play threat that Fannin and Uzomah were. I'm hoping that the guys in our current group lean further into both territories. (Probably separately, but if we have any guys who do both better- one or more of Shenker, Nigh (!!!) and Wilson probably give us the best shot- then that will be really exciting.)

Interesting to me that Joiner wasn't mentioned in this article. I know that he brings a different skill set than Cox, but it seems that he might get some H-back reps. Maybe it's about blocking. 

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36 minutes ago, McLoofus said:

He made a lot of good blocks and made a huge leap in his final year. He got drafted, so obviously the NFL liked what they saw. And like I said, he knew his assignments and attempted the correct block. His technique was just sorely lacking. He did that thing where he put his head down and tried to explode through guys and often just completely whiffed. 

Damned good pass catcher, too. Just a great all around athlete. And a sufficient blocker by 2018. Huge fan and I actually was a big cheerleader for him when folks were saying things like "Don't ever let Chandler Cox touch the ball again". But he wasn't the blocker that Prosch and Eric Smith were, and not quite the big play threat that Fannin and Uzomah were. I'm hoping that the guys in our current group lean further into both territories. (Probably separately, but if we have any guys who do both better- one or more of Shenker, Nigh (!!!) and Wilson probably give us the best shot- then that will be really exciting.)

Interesting to me that Joiner wasn't mentioned in this article. I know that he brings a different skill set than Cox, but it seems that he might get some H-back reps. Maybe it's about blocking. 

I think Joiner wasn’t mentioned for a reason. It looks like he’ll be more slot WR/RB than HB. That HB spot looks like it’s Shenker’s just going off A-Day. He even had some catches that game 

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16 minutes ago, Sizzle said:

I think Joiner wasn’t mentioned for a reason. It looks like he’ll be more slot WR/RB than HB. That HB spot looks like it’s Shenker’s just going off A-Day. He even had some catches that game 

You're probably right. Works for me. 

Might see him in some wildcat, too. 

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