Auburn's Will Hastings slated for midseason return from knee surgery

ATLANTA -- Auburn hopes to have wide receiver Will Hastings, who underwent knee surgery this spring, ready to play by midseason, coach Gus Malzahn said at SEC media days on Thursday.

"He's off to a very good start," Malzahn said. "His rehab is going excellent. We're hoping we get him back by the middle of the season."

Hastings, whom Malzahn called "one of our go-to guys," caught 26 passes for 525 yards and four touchdowns as a junior last season.

Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who threw for 3,158 yards last season, will begin the year without another top target, Eli Stove.

Stove, a junior who is recovering from an ACL injury he suffered this spring, caught 29 passes for 265 yards last season. He also rushed for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

"That's two tough blows," Malzahn said of Stove's and Hastings' injuries. "We need other receivers to step up in their absence until we get them back."

Auburn begins the season against Pac-12 playoff hopeful Washington on Sept. 1 in Atlanta.

With road trips to Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama, Malzahn said the Tigers have "the toughest schedule in all of college football."