Friday from the Eagle’s Nest: Fall Practice Edition
Have you heard the news? The rumors of Auburn’s demise have been greatly exaggerated! The Tigers open fall practice this afternoon and do so knowing that they are being counted on by many to be counted out early. Something tells me this group of young men have different plans. With the program headed in a radically new direction under the leadership of Gus Malzahn, the team may very well be one of the most tight-knit groups to enter fall practice on The Plains in sometime. It’s going to take 100% dedication from everyone involved, and thus far that does not seem to be a problem. All In has never seemed more appropriate.
Many of the main story lines heading into the Fall are familiar to the Auburn family. Of course there’s a quarterback competition on the slate. There are questions about Ellis Johnson’s defense, and how it will hold up running in conjunction to Malzahn’s fast-paced attack. That’s right, Gus Malzahn’s offense is so potent that it inflicts catastrophic damage to multiple defenses at once – the competition’s as well as his own. The coaching staff will have to work quickly to get everyone in their place so that they can set their sights on preparing for the home opener against Washington St. Although many players return from last year, a lot of them don’t quite know where they fit into the new systems on either side of the ball respectively. Hitting the ground running will be key.
At the top of Malzahn’s agenda, will be naming a starting quarterback. Jonathan Wallace, Nick Marshall, Kiehl Frazier, and Jeremy Johnson will all begin fall workouts competing for the starting spot. It has been widely speculated that Nick Marshall is the man to beat, but I wouldn’t count out Jonathan Wallace just yet. I expect Jeremy Johnson will most likely redshirt and Kiehl Frazier has been somewhat of a mystery for me this off-season. My eyes, won’t allow me to trust what Frazier can do on the field after what took place last season. Maybe it was simply the offense not clicking, but judging from body language and composure, Jonathan Wallace was by far the most comfortable of the two on the field last season. In the end, the coaches will have the final say.
Whomever the quarterback is, they ought to have plenty of talent around them on offense. I think that one interesting aspect of this team is there are hidden gems that have been on the roster since last season. Jay Prosch, Quan Bray, and C.J. Uzomah (along with others) are all players that took a step backwards or were curiously M.I.A. under the Scot Loeffler led 2012 offense. I believe Coach Malzahn and Coach Lashlee are going to have a field day developing blocking schemes for Jay Prosch. I look for him to have a big season and play a huge role in the offense. Another aspect of this offense I like is there is a lot of competition between today’s first practice and kickoff on August 31st. There spots still up for grabs and a lot of talented players working against one another to get them.
For example, the wide receiver position is almost anybody’s for the taking. Filling these spots will be a big challenge for the coaching staff initially, but the path to that may be extremely beneficial to the receivers themselves in the end. Competition breeds excellence. I firmly believe this will be all positive for the team in the long run. Situations like this one in particular are where leaders emerge, and that could make the difference between a ten win season or a seven win season. Also, the better the receiving core performs as a whole will directly coincide with how well the offense is able to score against opposing defenses. If several guys step up here, Malzahn will have a balanced attack capable of making any team in the country nervous about defending it for 4 quarters.
While the offense is essentially attempting to time travel into the endzone, Ellis Johnson will be guiding the defensive unit to hopefully making quick stops and getting off of the field on 3rd downs. Something that Auburn has been abysmal at the past few years. He won’t have quite the talent that the offense does, but his group of players are certainly capable of putting together a much better campaign than previous years. Strong defensive line play will be a must, but overall the defense must perform more fundamentally sound. Tackling was a MAJOR issue during Chizik’s time at Auburn, but hopefully Johnson will have that corrected going forward.
Only time will tell the tale of these Tigers in 2013, but I have to say I like their chances to make some noise this season. Auburn is at its most dangerous when it is overlooked. Coupled with the Malzahn offense and the new attitude of this team, that could be a dangerous combination for anyone counting on Auburn to be a pushover.
The annual USA Today College Coaches Poll was released yesterday to really get the masses in a frenzy on the eve of college football’s return and here is how it looked along with some early observations:
2. Ohio St.
6. Texas A&M
7. South Carolina
11. Notre Dame
12. Florida St.
14. Oklahoma St.
19. Boise St.
25. Oregon St.
Ohio State #2: “This time it counts.” Well, that is a nice little slogan you guys have put together. While certainly possible, I don’t see the Buckeyes remaining undefeated throughout the entire season for a second consecutive season. At some point, Meyer’s got some karma headed his way for still possessing the mentality he utilized as a hall monitor in elementary school.
Oregon #3: Nope. Not happening. You don’t just exit your most successful era of football under your most successful head coach ever and just continue to be the top 5 nationally juggernaut you were. I’m not saying Oregon is going to completely stink it up, but with new leadership in place and the possibility of off the field distractions coming into play this season, I don’t see the Ducks flying quite as high as they have been. No matter how many cool helmets Nike designs for them. I know the sanctions from the NCAA have been handed down, but the media doesn’t always allow those things to die in a timely manner.
SEC East (Georgia #5, South Carolina #7, Florida #10): I’ll say this, these teams will not end the season ranked in the same order they are now. I like South Carolina’s chances against both Florida and Georgia here in early August. TRIVIA: Michigan was actually ranked just one spot behind South Carolina at #8, but were still rattled from Jadaveon Clowney nearly sending one of their own players into an alternate dimension so they convinced Clemson to swap with them by telling Dabo Swinney he could copy some of their football traditions too.
Clemson #8: Time to see if Dabo Swinney can take the next step. He’s got everything to prove after declaring his 2012 squad was a national championship caliber team during the post game celebration from Clemson’s bowl win last season (not even a BCS bowl, mind you).
Louisville #9: Charlie Strong, Teddy Bridgewater with all due respect; it is going to be hard to put together an encore performance that rivals the 2012 Cardinals campaign. Although former Auburn Tiger, Michael Dyer’s presence in the offense could be enough of an x-factor to the team to the next level.
Notre Dame #11: I see Notre Dame riding the struggle bus all season long. There’s turmoil at the quarterback spot, and they lost their biggest threat at that position this past offseason. Expect the Irish to be a much less impressive team in 2013.
LSU #13: I have no idea what to think of this team and apparently neither do the coaches as the Bajou Bengals sit squarely in the middle of the pack in the Top 25. My gut however, tells me LSU will struggle much more so than most expect.
USC(west) #24: Whatever they’re selling, I’m not buying. Questions at the quarterback position. Questions in other places. I think this may be a make or break year for Lane Kiffen. The media doesn’t even seem to love being in-love with the Trojans as much as they used to be.
Vanderbilt (Not Ranked): Last season Vanderbilt received enough votes to garner the #20 ranking in this poll. How did they respond? Well, they won nine games and had one of the best seasons in recent memory. How were they repaid for living up to the hype so to speak? Dropped from the poll; like a bad habit. Anchor down, indeed.
Arkansas AND Tennessee both received one vote respectively. From this we can draw two conclusions: Bret Beliema voted for himself as Homecoming King and somebody owes Butch Jones some money. What’s worse is Mississippi St. got three votes. THREE! Ironically, that is higher than the number of big-time wins Dan Mullen has while residing in Starkville.