A Look Ahead.
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.