Auburn football: Craig-Myers ready to block and catch
AUBURN — In the middle of the 2017 season, Nate Craig-Myers began to understand playing wide receiver at Auburn was a version of a trust exercise.
Instead of falling backward with his eyes closed and relying on others to catch him, all Craig-Myers had to do was prove he could create separation and catch the football when open — and, of course, because he’s at Auburn, block. All receivers at Auburn block for their star tailbacks.
Of his 16 receptions last season, six of them came in the final three games of the season against Alabama, Georgia and Central Florida. In order to get those targets from Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, receivers coach Kodi Burns needed to make sure his 6-foot-2, 214-pound athlete could physically dominate the cornerback in front of him.
“Really a big thing is our coach wants us to block,” Craig-Myers said. “If you block, you’re going to get the ball. I feel like I made that step in blocking, I made a few plays down the field, so I just feel like they want me to take that next step as well.”
The former four-star prospect and arguably the jewel of Auburn’s treasured wide receivers crop of the 2016 recruiting class that produced himself, Eli Stove, Kyle Davis and Marquis McClain was a player that simply needed to push at the next level. And now what the talented big target finds himself doing is reacting in these spring practices instead of guessing or thinking about the play calls and his routes.
“Nate is a guy that Kodi (Burns) is asking a lot more of to take that next step, and he’s really responding,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Thursday. “You can just sense that, this is the third year in the offense. He just knows it and reacts. He’s helping coach some of those younger guys.”
Craig-Myers had a typical freshman season in 2016 where the speed of Malzahn’s offense tends to overtake the talent level of the player who is brought into the program. The proverbial lightbulb seemed to never turn on for the former Top 50 overall prospect until the second half of last season.
“It’s tough trying to learn a whole new playbook,” receiver Darius Slayton said. “And around here, when things start going fast, you thought you knew your plays, but when you’re having to spring across the field and get lined up quick, yeah, I definitely had my moments freshman year.”
Craig-Myers found the end zone on Kerryon Johnson’s jump pass in the 26-14 victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl. He also made it 7-0 in the first quarter when Stidham found him on a crossing route against Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. These scoring plays were the product of old-fashioned hard work following being shut out from catches in games against Texas A&M, LSU and Mississippi State.
“(Last season), I just put my head down and went to work,” Craig-Myers said. “Being a junior now, I just have to help out my teammates and lead. I had guys that showed me the ropes, and now I’m trying to just help out the younger guys.”
Auburn has already lost two receivers during spring practices as Stove went down before the spring break dismissal with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and 247Sports.com reported Saturday that Will Hastings went down with a knee injury in the closed scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
As a result of being considered an upperclassman leader among a receivers group that continues to lose bodies this spring, Craig-Myers says he’s even getting some deep routes drawn up for him in the second year of offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey calling plays.
“That’s always a good sign when the older guys get to a point where they can start coaching the younger guys, too,” Malzahn said. “And Nate’s a guy, he has the ability to make plays down the field.”