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‘In the flow’: Dillingham gets acclimated at OC


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‘In the flow’: Dillingham gets acclimated at OC with QB questions looming

Justin Lee | Auburn Reporter Opelika-Auburn Newsjlee@oanow.comFollow on Twitter @AUBlog|@ByJustinLee

Kenny Dillingham has been busy this past week.

Shortly after he was named Auburn’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last Sunday, the 28-year-old newest addition to Auburn’s coaching staff hit the recruiting trail to introduce himself to upcoming prospects who are considering playing for him and for Auburn.

After that, his second order of business was to get involved with Auburn’s current team on the practice field Thursday as Auburn opened bowl practices, working with the quarterbacks and doing his part to help prepare the Tigers for Purdue.

But thirdly, perhaps looming over all of those efforts, might be what’s Dillingham’s most pressing project as he steps foot on the Plains: Helping Auburn sort out its quarterback situation for 2019 and beyond.

The Tigers will seek out a new starter next season to take the opening snap from center against Oregon after kickoff next August.

Current starter Jarrett Stidham is set to bid farewell to Auburn in the Music City Bowl, playing his last game for the Tigers against Purdue on Dec. 28. He announced earlier this month that he plans to forgo his senior season of eligibility and enter the 2019 NFL Draft.

Enter Dillingham, who is set to work under Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, and work directly with the team’s quarterbacks, as Malzahn, Dillingham and the rest of the offensive staff sort through turnover this offseason and enter next spring seeking a new starter behind center.

During practices Thursday and Friday, Auburn senior receiver Ryan Davis said Dillingham spent most of his time on the practice field with Auburn’s quarterbacks.

That current group includes the departing Stidham, sophomore Malik Willis who has served as the backup on Auburn’s depth chart all season, the touted freshman quarterback Joey Gatewood who’s listed at 6-foot-5, and former minor league baseball player Cord Sandberg.

Legacy commit Bo Nix is on his way, and could put pen to paper to sign with Auburn as soon as Wednesday. The son of legendary Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix is considered by 247Sports to be the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback prospect.

All those other quarterbacks are getting more reps in practice this week, Malzahn said, as the Tigers turn an eye to the future, just as Dillingham enters the fold.

Dillingham worked directly with Memphis’ quarterbacks in each of the last three seasons, under Memphis head coach Mike Norvell.

Dillingham made the jump from Arizona State to Memphis with Norvell, when Norvell was hired to be Memphis’ head coach after serving as the Sun Devils’ offensive coordinator.

In his first season at Memphis, Dillingham spent the 2016 season as a graduate assistant coach working specifically with the program’s quarterbacks. In 2017, he was promoted to being the staff’s quarterbacks coach and tight ends coach. This season, he served as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach — before he made the jump to Auburn this past week.

“He’s just getting a flow of everything,” Davis said Friday, on Dillingham’s entrance to Auburn’s practices. “The first two days, we have just been trying to get back our conditioning and in the flow, with routes on air and stuff like that, but he has a lot of energy. He brings a lot of energy with him.

“It looks like he’s just trying to interact with the guys and get familiar with everybody. That’s what I see out of him these first two days.”

Memphis produced three 3,000-yard passers over the last three seasons, all of them working with Dillingham. Riley Ferguson threw for 3,698 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2016, then threw for 4,257 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2017, before Brady White threw for 3,125 yards and 25 touchdowns so far this season.

At Memphis, Dillingham spent game days in the coaches’ box, offering eyes in the sky on the headset with offensive-minded Norvell, who calls plays from the sideline. He’ll do the same thing for Malzahn, who announced with Dillingham’s hire that he’ll be taking over play-calling duties for the Auburn offense moving forward.

When Malzahn spoke on his hiring of Dillingham this past Thursday, he pointed specifically to Dillingham’s work with Memphis’ quarterbacks.

Malzahn said he visited Memphis practice this past spring, studying with Norvell, who is a friend of Malzahn’s and who once served as a graduate assistant for Malzahn.

There, Dillingham’s work with Memphis’ quarterbacks impressed Malzahn.

“I got a chance to watch this guy in the meeting room with his quarterbacks. It was very impressive, with his energy, his detail,” Malzahn said. “He just made a great impression on me. Then I got a chance to go a watch a practice and watch him do his thing. Really left that practice field thinking, ‘That guy there, I’d like to hire him someday.’

“It’s pretty unique from that standpoint, that he’s here with us. Really, I thought it was the perfect fit from the standpoint that he did the same thing for Mike Norvell he’s going to do for me.”

For now, Malzahn said then that Dillingham is just working to get acclimated to his new position. He said once the Tigers move to practices at the bowl site, Dillingham will do some assisting, but won’t go “full force” in coaching until the team gets to the spring.

Then, Stidham will be gone, hoping to hear his name in the NFL Draft.

And the Tigers will, most likely, be looking for answers on the best way to the team call fill the void left behind and what Auburn’s quarterback position will look like in 2019.

One way or the other, Dillingham figures to be part of that solution — and soon after a busy first week in Auburn, he’ll surely get cracking on it.

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