A Look Ahead.

By Posted on: January 16th, 2014 in Football 8 Comments »
A new year.

Tigers get back to work to put another great season together!
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now to look ahead at the future of Auburn football, and speculate on what next season’s team might look like. I fully expect that these Tigers will hit the winter workouts full-tilt, and will emerge even stronger than last season. These players know what it takes to go from worst to first. One of the key sentiments from team leaders after getting off the plane home from Pasadena was that they expected to go back to the national title game again in 2014, and were committed to delivering a different result this time!

     It’s recruiting season, folks. I anticipate all the hype and hoopla of this time of year with the same enthusiasm I share for a dental drill. I tend to ignore the recruiting blurbs in January, and focus on the last fleeting all-star games and NFL playoff matchups. I do like to take a look at who Auburn signed after it’s all said and done, but the media can have the rest of that drama. I get excited when players show me something on the field at Jordan Hare Stadium, with that blue shirt on. That said, it’s noteworthy that Auburn running back commit Racean Thomas was just selected as Alabama’s Mr. Football. It is nice to think we’ll have another all-purpose, tackle-breaking back to replace Tre Mason!

     After the jump, I’m going to take a look at each position group, and note who Auburn has coming back. Obviously, some true freshmen and junior college transfers will come in and have an impact next fall. It happens every year for most teams, these days. However, speculating on who’ll be eligible and will actually sign I’ll leave for others to ponder. Here’s who’s on the Auburn roster now, and has done it before.

     At defensive tackle, Auburn loses starter Nosa Eguae, but returns a pretty solid, veteran bunch. Gabe Wright played probably the most consistent ball down the stretch last season, of the returning guys. Angelo Blackson, Ben Bradley and Montravius Adams have all been through the wars. Adams, who contributed as a true freshman last season might have the biggest upside of any tackle after going through conditioning and spring drills. Also returning to the lineup will be Jeffery Whitaker, who sat out last season due to injury. Auburn will again be deep at tackle, with potential break-out players galore.

     Defensive end will feature a younger look in 2014. Gone are Dee Ford, Craig Sanders and Kenneth Carter. Senior LaDarius Owens will be the grizzled veteran this coming year. The future at this position is sophomores Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson. The race will be on to see who’ll win the 4th position in this rotation. Auburn has four or five guys on the roster who’ve played only sparingly, if at all. This might be a spot for a newcomer to step in and make an immediate impact.

     The linebacker corps loses Jake Holland, but returns starter Casanova McKinzy. Kris Frost is a near-lock to take over the middle linebacker spot, and that should be a pretty solid starting unit. Anthony Swain emerged last season as a second teamer, and Javier Mitchell made some plays as well. Kenny Flowers was on the roster as a promising junior college transfer last season, but played only sparingly. Often, a JUCO guy doesn’t really shine till his second season. Justin Garrett started last year in the star position, but moved to will linebacker before missing the season due to nagging foot injuries. It remains to be seen which position he’ll return to, this spring. He’ll have his work cut out, to unseat any of the projected starters.

     Robensen Therezie returns at the star position, and he was certainly one of the stars on defense last season! It’s hard to say who Therezie’s backup was, as he rarely came off the field with the game on the line. Brandon King played a few snaps in this role, but competition for this spot will be wide open in the spring. It was spoken of last season, that fans might see both Therezie and Justin Garrett on the field at the same time a good bit, but it didn’t happen. That’s again a possibility. One of the keys of spring ball will be to develop a future for this position.

     At corner, Auburn loses superstar Chris Davis, as well as key backup Ryan White. Auburn’s veteran returning cornerback is fifth year senior Jonathan Mincy, one of only a handful of players left from the 2010 national title team. Mincy is a guy with good ball skills, and is a punishing hitter. Who’ll start opposite Mincy is an open question. Jonathan Jones probably got the most playing time off the bench in 2013, and shows good speed and hitting ability. Jonathan Ford, a converted running back played a bit last season, as did Khari Harding and T. J. Davis. Putting together a playing rotation to go with Mincy will be critical to Auburn’s success next season, with the returning quarterbacks in the increasingly wide-open SEC West.

     At safety, Auburn loses Ryan Smith, and Ryan White. Jermaine Whitehead returns at one safety spot, and Joshua Holsey is hoping to be full speed by the time fall camp starts after a knee injury. Again here, depth is a question. Trent Fisher has played in stretches during his career at Auburn, and he’ll likely start out as the number three guy in his senior season. Brandon King may also play a role at safety next season.

     At punter, Steven Clark may be the hardest Auburn player to replace this off-season. The past three seasons, Auburn’s punts have been a field-position weapon, and Clark had his best run of coffin corner kicks as Auburn hit Amen Corner this past season. There’ll be a competition this spring between a couple of redshirt freshmen. Tyler Stovall played professional baseball as a pitcher from 2008 to 2011, then came to Auburn to finish his education and punt the football. Jimmy Hutchinson came in last fall as the top-rated high school punter in the nation, and is said to have tons of leg-strength.

     Punt returner Chris Davis graduates, but Auburn does have two veteran seniors who’ve been back there returning. Quan Bray and Trovon Reed both have experience, and are pretty sure-handed. I’d imagine the coaches will also work a few younger guys with this unit, to see if they can find a particularly explosive guy. Auburn should be pretty solid, here.

     Auburn loses Tre Mason from the kick return unit, but Quan Bray has been back there for years. Corey Grant will return, and is proven to have the ability to take one to the house. The quest here is to find some reserves. Grant may wind up being the starting running back, so it’s imperative to find a third and fourth guy.

     Auburn loses Cody Parkey and all of his touchbacks to graduation at the kicker position, but there are three guys on the roster returning. Sophomores Duncan McKinney and Alex Kviklys have been at Auburn for a couple of years, and both received accolades as high school kickers. Kviklys has had experience kicking in front of a Jordan Hare Stadium crowd, in the 2012 A-Day game as Parkey sat that one out. My guess is that redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson might win the competition, as he was one of the top kickers in the nation in high school, and is said to have great leg strength. This will be an interesting race to watch. I figure the most accurate guy will get the place kicker job, and the best distance guy will get to kick off. That might mean split duties for the first time in a while at Auburn.

     Auburn’s offensive line loses Greg Robinson, likely to the first round of the NFL draft. That will be a hole to fill, but Auburn has some capable depth in the wings. Some folks speculate that starting right tackle Avery Young may move to the left, as he’s one of the most athletic linemen on the roster. Shon Coleman is the incumbent number two left tackle, and will be a tough competitor. Look for Patrick Miller to make a return somewhere. He started the first half of the season at right tackle, before off-field issues sidelined him. At guard spots, Chad Slade and Alex Kozan return, and they’ll be hard to move. All-SEC center Reese Dismukes is back, and he’ll once again anchor a deep line, which should be one of the best in the SEC this fall.

     Every year, there are questions about Auburn’s H-Back/Tight End rotation, and this year is no different. Depth is notoriously hard to build here, and that could be an issue again with the graduation of dominant blocker Jay Prosch. Starting tight end C. J. Uzomah returns, and he emerged last season as both a good blocker and a red zone receiving threat. I would have said a week or two ago that the likely H-Back starter would be Brandon Fulse, but there was interesting news on that front this past week. Evidently, Ricky Parks is returning to the team as a walk-on, after being dismissed from the program last year. Parks was running second team at H-Back behind Prosch at the A-Day game, and could be a starter. That’s particularly true given that Fulse spent time last season also playing outside receiver at times. Gage Batten returns as the second-team H-back behind Prosch last season. It will be interesting to see how he does this spring.

     There was not a senior on Auburn’s wide receiver roster in 2013, and all should theoretically return. Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis emerged as starters late in the season, and are as dangerous as any receivers in the SEC. Jaylon Denson should be back after a knee injury against LSU. Trovon Reed and Quan Bray bring veteran depth, and younger guys Marcus Davis and Melvin Ray showed good ability at times, too. This might be the deepest position on Auburn’s roster in 2014.

     Auburn’s running back corps loses Heisman finalist Tre Mason early to the NFL draft, but a lot of talent returns. Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Cory Grant both rushed for over 600 yards each off the bench last season, and they’ll be joined by redshirt freshman scout-team hero Peyton Barber. There could also be some contribution from cornerback Jonathan Ford, and there’s talent lined up for national signing day, also. Auburn will miss Mason, but there’s plenty of firepower returning.

     Quarterback Nick Marshall is back again, and will be the man to beat at quarterback. This spring will mark the first time in Gus Malzhan’s eight-year college career to tutor a returning starter at quarterback. Marshall had one of the best Auburn offensive years in history, and is looking to improve on that this season. He’ll be pushed by Jeremy Johnson, who proved to be a pretty polished, strong-armed passer right out of high school last season. This is the first time in a very long while that Auburn fans will go through the offseason without significant quarterback worries. Jonathan Wallace will provide depth, as well as a highly sought-after newcomer or two.

     And that’s Auburn’s speculative future in blog post. Naturally, some of this will be true, and some guys will drop off the radar. There will be major contributions by folks who come out of nowhere. That’s the way football is every year, and that’s why we love college football.

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  1. win4au says:

    Acid, I believe Marshall will be the starting QB for 2014. He just knows the O to well. Marshall and Mason’s thoughts seemed to be telepathic this past season. Do you think we will see the same between Marshall and the next star RB to fill Mason’s shoes?
    Also, I noticed you did not mention D’haquille Williams. The WR #1 JUCO tranfer whose currently enrolled. Don’t you think he’ll be an immediate threat at the WR spot? I am excited about this guy, he’s big 6-3, 213lbs!
    I can’t wait to see how much Carl Lawson improves in 2014. That guy is a BEAST!
    As far as our coaching staff, do you think we will be able to retain everyone?
    WDE

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..I thought Marshall ran that read pretty well regardless of who was in there. The backs were very well coached, too.

      …..D’haquille is enrolled, as are several others. Still, they are “incoming,” and I left those out. Doubtless, some of those guys will contribute. Receiver is going to be a difficult crowd to break into. Biggest factor is “if you don’t block, you don’t play,” in this offense.

  2. NoVaFan34 says:

    I don’t think there can be any question about Marshall being the starting QB. If he can improve his passing game, especially on the deep throws, he will be the best QB in the SEC next year. There’s more talent in the receiving corps than I’ve seen in a while. This offense will be exciting.

    On a slightly negative note, I’ll be glad to see some new blood at the safety position. Bad safety play was the one big Achilles heel for this team in 2013.

    With Alabama bringing in a new QB and questions about their defense, and with LSU hemorrhaging so much offensive talent to the NFL, I think Auburn has to be the favorite for the SEC West, although the sched between mid-October and the Iron Bowl is brutal.

  3. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I’m not necessarily seeing new blood at safety, this season, unless we’re mauled by injury. Whitehead is entrenched, I think. The question on Holsey is whether the knee heals up, but he was the starter the first half of the season last year. Beyond those two are a LOT of questions.

  4. KoolBell KoolBell says:

    The entire Defensive backfield will have to improve tremendously. This will be Auburn’s telling tale of this coaching staff. If the coaches can improve the quality of play here, we could be in for a big run next season.

    Enjoyed the post, Acid. Well done!

    WAR EAGLE!

  5. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    I’m happy that Sammie Coates will be back. We need him for NM to improve. But this off season will be all about player development. I 100% agree with KB on that point. The issue at Auburn has not been lack of talent; it has been lack of player development. I certainly trust this coaching staff WAY more than the last.

    Next year is going to be tough. We are opening against Arkansas (I hate this game every year). A pair of away games in Mississippi, and Amen Corner played in Athens and T-town. So, overall, our schedule is not as permissible as it was last year…..but if we get the player development that we need in the offseason, watch out!!

  6. TexasAUTiger says:

    Great post as always, Acid. I can’t wait for the season to start! The countdown has already started on my calendar.

    – I was super excited when we signed Gabe Wright and I think he could make some even bigger strides this offseason. Hopefully he can make that Fairley leap and live up to his signing day theatrics of “Nick Who?” Montravius Adams should make this position super exciting after a full offseason.

    - Carl Lawson at DE seems like a great leader and is my favorite player on this team. I can’t wait to see what this kid does playing full time next year.

    – Thanks Jake Holland for your services but I won’t miss your inconsistent play. I’m hoping the other LBs will step up and make this position a strong point this year.

    – I know we have a couple of good recruits coming in at CB this year but I doubt they will see much playing time. I really wish Auburn could land a shut-down corner. Anytime an opposing team has a receiver above 6’3, it scares the hell out of me.

    – Clark and Parkey losses are huge. Hopefully Hutchinson lives up to the hype and whatever kicker we go with is Parkey-esque.

    – I love Tre but not worried about the RB position whatsoever.

    – Nick Marshall will definitely get plenty of work on his accuracy and should hopefully make strong strides after a full offseason and knowledge of the whole playbook. I think he will come back even better and feel awesome about that. One worry I have is Jeremy Johnson getting fed up with lack of playing time and transferring somewhere else. Too bad we didn’t redshirt him because I think he will be a very solid starter.

    War Damn Eagle!

  7. Tigerstripe Tigerstripe says:

    I don’t buy into ranking HS kids either but there are a couple of things I enjoy about the circus:
    - watching recruits choose Auburn over our rivals
    - getting to know names and faces of the future
    - watching the coaching staff get excited about getting the kids they want