Six Auburn freshmen to know before the Music City Bowl

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With the Music City Bowl serving as somewhat of a preview for Auburn’s 2024 football season, there will be plenty of youngsters suiting up and playing plenty of snaps for the Tigers on Saturday.

With All-SEC quarterback Marcus Harris and starting cornerbacks DJ James and Nehemiah Pritchett sitting out the game, Auburn’s defense should look fresh, as should the receiver corps that was robbed of outgoing transfers.

“I’ve never had waivers and I’ve never dealt with it before,” Auburn coach Hugh Freeze said Wednesday. “It was something new. You are not the same team that finished the year personnel wise. In a way, that’s pretty exciting for the start of next year. We’re not in the playoffs. You can really look at it as an extra game for these young kids that we’re going to depend on.”

Here’s a rundown of the young Tigers you need to know ahead of the Music City Bowl.

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CB Kane Lee

Freshman cornerback Kaiin Lee (3) runs a drill against senior wide receiver Nick Mardner (8) during an Auburn football practice at the Woltosz Center on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, in Auburn.

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The only player on that roster to start, Lee filled in for Pritchett for the first three games of the year, then settled into the backup role for Auburn’s remaining games after Week 3 against Samford.

He finished the regular season with 17 tackles, 1.0 tackles for loss, a quarterback rush and a forced fumble. He also had five passes, which was the second most of any Tiger.

It looks like Auburn will have at least one replacement for Pritchett and James in Keionte Scott, who is moving into the boundary cornerback role. While not guaranteed, Lee would be the presumptive favorite to start opposite him as it stands now.

TE Micah Riley

Auburn vs. Samford

Auburn’s Micah Riley (84) rushes into the end zone after a touchdown catch in the second half. Auburn vs. Samford in an NCAA football game on Saturday, September 16, 2023 at Auburn.

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Now in his second season on the Plains, the Nebraska native hasn’t seen the field much in two years. He played in just three games in 2022, and although he played in all 12 regular-season games this fall, he was mostly a special teamer and only played 81 offensive snaps.

The pass-catching tight end, however, fits the mold of fellow tight end Rivaldo Fairweather. He graduated from Bellevue West (Neb.) High School with 76 receptions for 1,199 yards and 14 touchdown receptions. He was considered a four-star prospect by Rivals, with the site and ESPN listing him as a top-20 tight end in the 2022 class.

With the depth at wide receiver thinner than usual for the bowl game, there will certainly be more opportunities for Auburn’s tight ends to catch passes. Look for the rarely used Riley to get a little more time.

S Terrance Love

Auburn vs. Samford

Auburn’s Terrance Love (16) tackles Samford’s Damonta Witherspoon (31) in the second half. Auburn vs. Samford in an NCAA football game on Saturday, September 16, 2023 at Auburn.

Adam Sparks /

The secondary is by far Auburn’s biggest question mark before 2024, and while there is some clarity at cornerback, the safety spots are much more open. With neither Jaylin Simpson nor Zion Puckett returning, there will be two new starters as Auburn’s last line of defense. Love is an intriguing option for one of these places.

He played in nine games this year and barely recorded 40 snaps on defense, but the four-star true freshman is listed at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds. His size allows him to be a versatile linebacker who could play a traditional safety role or move to the All-Star position previously occupied by Scott.

There are several other new defensive backs slated to take the field Saturday along with Love and Lee. Colton Hood, JC Hart,

OL Tyler Johnson

Johnson is a name that has earned praise from his teammates throughout the bowl process.

“He’s gotten a lot better,” Auburn Jack defensive end Jaylen McLeod said of Johnson. “He realized how much length he has in the fight. I guess he didn’t know how big he was at first, but now he realizes he has such long arms and he’s 6-6, 6-7. He knows that all he has to do is be more sound in technique and he has to be more aggressive. Once he realizes these two things, he will be great.

Although Auburn will lose four offensive linemen – three of whom were starters – to eligibility, they will all still play in the Music City Bowl. Johnson appears to be next in line after them.

Jack LB Brenton Williams

081723 maroon football practice

Freshman linebacker Brenton Williams (22) runs a drill during Auburn football practice at the Woltosz Center on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, in Auburn.

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A similar situation to Johnson, Williams will be next in line at the Jacks’ quarterback position without Elijah McAllister next fall. Jamonta Waller will likely see the field as well, but with Waller a true freshman, Williams is slated to be the second-most experienced rusher on Auburn’s roster.

“Brenton is definitely stepping up because he knows it’s just me and him right now and it’s going to be Jamonta when he comes,” McLeod said. “He knows he’s got to compete, he’s got to keep competing, come to practice ready to go and that’s what he’s doing.”

DL Darron “DJ” Reed

Reid didn’t see the field once this fall, but with Harris gone, he will be tasked with helping fill the void in Nashville.

Like Love, Reed was a consensus four-star defensive line prospect out of Carver (Ga.) High School. He was considered a top-10 player at his position by On3, and the Tigers landed him over LSU, Clemson and Florida State, among others.

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