For better or worse, Auburn turns the page on the 2010 football season this week when spring practice opens on Wednesday. The football program has seemingly taken more hits in the off-season than it did during its championship run.
From false audio tape allegations to armed robbery to now unflattering pictures of players on the internet, this has been the off-season from hell for the newly minted champions.
Spring break ends today for Auburn students. The police blotter has remained clear for Gene Chizik’s men during the break. We’ll consider that traction heading into one of the most intriguing spring practices in recent memory.
Here are five storylines to follow over the next month:
Who will start at quarterback?
The assumption that Barrett Trotter will be the man to follow Cam Newton may only be that – an assumption. What we do know is that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will have his sixth starting quarterback in six seasons of coaching college football. Jason Campbell may be the only person who can relate.
Regardless of who gets the nod, they’ll never be confused with Newton. Malzahn swears Trotter is every bit as accurate as Newton. But his running reminds you of Brandon Cox. Well, maybe not that bad.
Sophomore Clint Moseley will likely give Trotter a run this spring. He’s been in the Malzahn system for three years and has become a scout team legend during his tenure.
The wildcard is incoming freshman Kiehl Frazier. The Springdale, Arkansas native comes to campus as one of the most highly recruited players in the country. The big question is whether Malzahn will be comfortable going on the road to Clemson, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia with a rookie signal caller.
With Frazier not arriving on campus until summer, don’t expect Malzahn to name a starter until August.
Who will fill the massive hole left on the offensive line?
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has made it clear that every job is up for grabs this spring. With only Brandon Mosley and A.J. Greene returning as starters, it’s safe to say that Auburn’s success in 2011 will be determined by the men up front.
Greene is expected to regain his starting job after going down with an injury in the fourth game last season. Mosley finished strong and should also play a huge role in bringing this unit together.
Looking at the roster, you quickly realize this group is every bit as talented as the men they’ll replace. With an incoming class that includes Reese Dismukes, Thomas O’Reilly, Greg Robinson and Christian Westerman, all that’s lacking is experience.
Who will fill the shoes of Darvin Adams?
With Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery moving on, the title of go-to receiver now falls in the hands of Emory Blake. To achieve anywhere near last year’s production, he’ll need the help of senior Quindarius Carr and junior DeAngelo Benton.
Neither player has so far lived up to the hype. Last year, Carr and Benton accounted for only three receptions. Trooper Taylor’s unit wasn’t helped any with the arrests of sophomores Shaun Kitchens and Antonio Goodwin. Both were expected to provide depth.
The big question is whether Trevon Reed can remain healthy and contribute each week. Look for signees Sammie Coates and Jaylon Denson to get a look early.
Who will replace the leadership of Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens at linebacker?
If you like competition, keep your eyes on the linebackers this spring. There’s a ton of talent waited to takeover for Bynes and Stevens. They’ll be led by junior Daren Bates who racked up 48 tackles a year ago, second most on the team.
Senior Eltoro Freeman should provide leadership and experience, while junior Jonathan Evans should improve on his 27 tackles from 2010. Competition will come from sophomore Jake Holland, junior Harry Gaston and sophomore Jessel Curry.
How do you replace Nick Fairley, Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton?
That’s the million dollar question that will keep new defensive line coach Mike Pelton up at night. He’ll look to a pair of sophomores in Kenneth Carter and Jeff Whitaker.
The good news is they have no ceiling when it comes to ability. The bad news is they accounted for only 13 tackles last season and will have to grow up fast for Auburn to be competitive in the SEC West.
Juniors Derrick Lykes and Jam Travis will provide depth. Look for signee Gabe Wright to come in and play early. Fellow signee Jabrian Niles could also be in the mix.