By Mark Murphy
Inside The Auburn Tigers
Auburn will head into the first season with Gene Chizik in charge as head coach with questions on both sides of the football.
Offensively, the Tigers will be adapting to new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s fast-paced, two-back, no-huddle style of play that will be directed by a quarterback-to-be-named-later.
Defensively, the changes will not be as noticeable with new coordinator Ted Roof running a 4-3 front, which has been what the Tigers have used for many years. However, there are questions on that side of the football, most noticeably concerning the depth at linebacker.
Chizik says he liked the progress he saw on offense, particularly during the later stages of spring training, but he didn’t like any quarterback enough to name a No. 1 guy at the position. Junior Kodi Burns, who finished the 2008 season as the starter, is facing a strong challenge from redshirt junior Neil Caudle, a highly-regarded recruit who has overcome a series of injuries to finally make a challenge for playing time.
Barrett Trotter, a redshirt freshman, was also in the mix at quarterback, but a late spring ACL injury changed that. Chris Todd, a senior who was a part-time starter last year, missed all of spring practice while recovering from shoulder surgery. Whether or not he will be physically able to compete for the starting spot means that Chizik is not ruling out the possibility of a pair of true freshmen, four-star Texan Tyrik Rollison and Alabama’s Mr. Football Clint Moseley, pushing for playing time.
The Tigers should be solid running the football with Ben Tate, Mario Fannin, Eric Smith and newcomer Onterrio McCalebb in the backfield behind an offensive line that returns four starters led by juniors Lee Ziemba and Ryan Pugh.
The receiver corps, not a strength last fall, has potential, but is short on proven performers. Signees DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake should get a serious look.
Defensively, the Tigers look solid at end with All-SEC Antonio Coleman returning as a senior and another starter, Michael Goggans, back as a junior. The Tigers need senior Jake Ricks plus juniors Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc to step up at noseguard and tackle where the Tigers lost Tez Doolittle and Sen’Derrick Marks.
The secondary has the potential to be strong and deep despite losing cornerback Jerraud Powers early to the NFL. Walt McFadden is coming off a strong junior year at corner and sophomore Neiko Thorpe was impressive in the spring. Aairon Savage, who has started at cornerback and safety, missed the 2008 season with an injury, but should be back at full speed. Zac Etheridge looks ready for a big junior season at safety and fellow junior Mike McNeil is also a returning starter at safety.
Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens are returning starters at linebacker, but nobody else has had significant playing time. Talented juco transfer Eltoro Freeman, who will be a sophomore this fall, moved to the top of the depth chart in spring drills.
The Tigers return kicker Wes Byrum, who had a sophomore slump, and Clinton Durst, a punter with a strong leg.
Chizik left Auburn as defensive coordinator following the undefeated 2004 season. The keys for a successful first year in his return is for the Tigers to avoid injuries that plagued last season’s squad and for someone to step up at the quarterback position.
Scout.com Publishers’ Predictions
(first-place votes in parentheses)
1. Florida (12)
4. South Carolina
1. Alabama (5)
2. Ole Miss (4)
3. LSU (3)
6. Mississippi State
Overall League Champion: Florida