Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn looks at the scoreboard during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
DOTHAN, Alabama -- The last time Gus Malzahn had big-play depth in Auburn's receiving corps, he directed Cam Newton to the SEC record in pass efficiency and a single-season school record for touchdown passes.
Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery and Emory Blake formed a trio of vertical threats, all capable of stretching a defense and making teams pay for loading up to stop Newton in the running game.
Malzahn thinks his current group might be even deeper.
"I think we have more depth at the wide receiver position than any of the three years I was here before," Malzahn said. "That’s a good thing."
With Nick Marshall at the helm, a deep stable of running backs and an experienced offensive line that's at its best in the running game, Auburn will continue to build its offense around the running game.
But the Tigers focused their attention in the spring on improving the vertical passing game and being more capable of making teams pay for stacking the box, similar to the way Newton and his trio of receivers hurt teams in 2010.
In 2010, Newton averaged just 20 passing attempts per game, a number that's only slightly higher than the 18.4 attempts Marshall averaged in 2013, albeit with an injury that stole most of Marshall's game against Florida Atlantic.
What made Newton's season special was the ability to make those throws count. With three receivers who picked up more than 500 yards, Newton averaged an impressive 10.2 yards per attempt.
Auburn wants to be able to push the ball down the field like that with Marshall.
"We know we can run the ball," Marshall said after A-Day. "We're just focused on throwing the ball down the field."
For Marshall to make that leap, Auburn's receivers have to live up to Malzahn's expectations. Behind Sammie Coates, a proven deep threat who caught 42 passes for 902 yards and seven touchdowns last season, the Tigers didn't have any receiver with more than 325 receiving yards.
Malzahn believes the Tigers have those targets in 2014 with the addition of D'haquille Williams and Stanton Truitt, the continued development of Ricardo Louis, Tony Stevens, Marcus Davis and the return of Jaylon Denson, who was injured last season, among others.
How the pecking order shakes out behind Coates remains to be seen.
"We’ve not made any decision past that, but the good thing is we have a lot of options," Malzahn said. "We moved some people around, we tried to figure out what their strengths were and we tried to develop some depth, thinking specifically for next fall."
If Malzahn's history is any indication, all of Auburn's capable receivers will get their chances in specific personnel groupings designed to take advantage of key skill sets.
Williams seems like the wild card.
The nation's No. 1 junior college transfer, Williams showed a good aptitude for the offense, great athleticism, ball skills and hands and an ability to handle every type of route for the Tigers.
Where he fits will help Auburn shape the rest of the receiving corps.
"I think he's got the ability to move around and play all the positions," Malzahn said. "You know, at times, we moved him around, and he's picked things up quick. He's a guy that really wants the ball and can do something with it once he catches it."
If history is any indication, Malzahn will find a way to get every capable receiver chances in personnel packages that use all of Auburn's pass-catchers.
And with more depth than he's ever had before at the position, Malzahn will have a lot of options.
"The wide receiver room, we have a lot of talent in that room," Coates said. "It’s crazy how much talent is in that one room."