Next Year’s Team?
War Eagle, everybody! A horrific season is over, and the Tigers are now looking for a new leader. We’re seeing the usual wild rumors, coaching denials, and all of the typical things that go on with such searches. I’m of the opinion that both schools and coaches float ridiculous rumors out there just to gain leverage. The “Les Miles to Arkansas” hot rumor of a couple of days ago seems to have led to a sizeable contract extension for the Mad Hatter. My advice on those sorts of things is to stay calm and let the smoke clear.
While the coaching carousel spins, I’ll content myself with a glance over Auburn’s returning roster. Now, bear in mind, some players may leave. Attrition occurs every off-season, whether there are coaching changes or not. Some players decide to go in a different direction. Some are medically unable to play any longer. It’s also possible that a new staff will bring in a number of junior college players, and revamp the roster. Still, next year’s team will be mostly built on who still has eligibility left at Auburn.
At defensive tackle, Auburn loses only reserve Jamar Travis to graduation. This leaves a deep returning class with Jeffery Whitaker, Kenneth Carter, Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright who all have multiple starts on the Tiger front. All will be upperclassmen, and one can add Devaunte Sigler to the list of guys who have experience. In addition, there are some young prospects that sat on the bench this season, including Jabrian Niles and Tyler Nero. This group has underachieved the past two seasons, but it’s possible a new staff could really bring them out. All of these guys were highly recruited, nearly all were four or five stars coming out of high school.
Likewise at defensive end, Auburn loses no experience. A corps of Corey Lemonier, Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae is about as veteran as it gets in college football. Add in Craig Sanders and LaDarius Owens and it’s an experienced and deep unit. There’s also talent on the bench in youngsters Gimel President, Keymiya Harrell, and Justin Delaine. The biggest concern is that pretty much all of these guys are speedy pass rushers, and Auburn does not have any big, run-stopping ends.
The linebacker position was the weakest on the defense this past season, and the Tigers will have to replace starters Darren Bates and Jonathan Evans, as well as experienced reserve Ashton Richardson. I’d expect the new staff to concentrate in recruiting, on replenishing the linebacker corps. Auburn does return some talent, but not a lot of experience beyond starting middle linebacker Jake Holland. Casanova Mckinzy had a few starts this season behind Holland. Kris Frost has looked like a physical, fast presence in limited minutes. Justin Garrett has looked good in fleeting glimpses, but has had difficulty staying on the field due to injury. Guys on the roster with no real experience include JaViere Mitchell, Mack VanGorder, Jacob Westrich, and Gage Batten. I can see a new staff molding a capable starting crew out of this bunch, but depth will be a real concern.
While we knew that the linebackers might struggle the past season, the problems in the Auburn secondary were shockingly unexpected. In hindsight, I suppose we should have considered how Georgia’s secondary looked in later years under Willie Martinez, and how big passing plays doomed his career as a coordinator in Athens. Auburn has too much talent in the secondary to play as inconsistently as they did this past season, and I attribute that to poor coaching.
At safety, Auburn loses only special-teamer Ikeem Means. Returning with starting experience are Demetruce McNeal, Jermaine Whitehead, Trent Fisher, and Ryan Smith. In addition, Erique Florence held a starting safety position for much of spring, till falling into Chizik’s doghouse. This is a bunch with good talent, just waiting for a respectable scheme to run.
Prior to last season, I felt that we had a very capable, and deep pool of corners, and that group only loses T’Sharvan Bell to graduation. Starters Chris Davis, Jonathan Mincy and Joshua Holsey all return. In addition, Ryan White, Jonathan Jones, and Robensen Therezie all have experience. I think most SEC coaches would love to have this crew on their team. Auburn should be in good shape on the edges next season.
Auburn will return a strong pair of legs in the kicking game with seniors Cody Parkey handling the kicking, and Steven Clark punting. Clark had some consistency issues as the season rolled on, but I’d expect that he’ll really gear up for a good final campaign. The Tigers finally do lose multi-year threat Onterio McCalebb, but Quan Bray is a two year veteran who’ll be fine on both return units. What Auburn must do is get a whole lot better blocking on returns. The Tigers also return deep snapper Jake Lembke and holder Ryan White.
We also expected Auburn to possibly struggle early on the offensive line this past season, and they did at times. Two freshmen and two sophomores started, and the o-line is not a good place to be young in the SEC. Four starters return for 2013, and that should be good news for a new offensive coordinator. Reese Dismukes could be a star at center in his junior season, and likewise with left tackle Greg Robinson. Chade Slade, a two-year starter already, will play a veteran role somewhere. Right tackles Avery Young and Patrick Miller had their struggles as true freshmen this past year, but that experience will be valuable. Auburn has a number of big strong linemen who’ve played little or none, including Christian Westerman, Alex Kozan, Robert Leff, Shon Coleman, Jordan Diamond, and Shane Callahan. The Tigers also have an experienced, capable backup center in Tunde Fariyike. After another year in the weight room, I’m excited to see what this group will be capable of next year.
At tight end, Auburn loses Phillip Lutzenkirchen, but will return Brandon Fulse and C. J. Uzomah. Fulse was a good blocker for Auburn last season, but wasn’t thrown to much. Uzomah had flashes of being a real weapon in the passing game, but couldn’t really break out in an extremely dysfunctional offense. Highly touted recruit Ricky Parks spent the year redshirting. Auburn should have a pretty good group of guys next season.
Auburn loses Emory Blake, Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton in the receiving corps, but returns a wealth of talent. The question is who will step up and become a consistent threat receiving. The obvious choice for possible break-out star is Sammie Coates, who had a spectacular catch or two, and seemed to have a knack for getting open deep. Trovon Reed and Quan Bray have played a good bit, but were used only as designated screen pass guys. Jaylon Denson has played a fair amount also, but was not thrown to. Ricardo Lewis is another guy who looks lightning quick, but was not utilized much this past season. The new receivers coach does have a solid group of talent to mold.
At fullback, Auburn loses senior Blake Burgess, but returns behemoth bruiser Jay Prosch, who’s as good as anyone in the country as a lead blocker. Chris Landrum got some snaps at fullback in two cupcake games late in the season. How these guys are utilized this coming season will depend upon the scheme that’s installed, but I’d think a guy like Prosch would be valuable on any offense. If Auburn runs a passing spread, fullbacks won’t matter much, and Prosch would likely be used as a blocking back or tight end. If we become a power running team, we lack depth in this area.
Auburn loses Onterio McCalebb and little-used Anthony Morgan at tailback. Returning are thousand yard rusher Tre Mason, and prospects Mike Blakely and Corey Grant. That’s a decent three-deep, but there’s no one else back there behind those three. Auburn really needs to sign at least one big time running back, preferably more in the coming period.
Auburn returns all three quarterbacks who have starting experience, Clint Moseley, Khiel Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. Frazier and Wallace bring running ability to the table, but none of these guys is consistently accurate. Part of this past year’s problems at quarterback was an overly complicated scheme that seldom saw the receivers and the quarterbacks on the same page. None of these guys ran a pro-style offense in high school, and a return to an offense more familiar might work wonders. If Auburn hires a pass-happy, air-raid head coach, We’ll be watching development here with real concern. We might well see a situation where the coaches try to bring in an experienced JUCO.
That’s our look at Tiger returnees. It’s a fairly deep and athletic team, with a couple of possible problem areas. A linebacker corps will have to be built, and the Tigers will need to find a starting quarterback. Still, the right coaching staff should get great results with this team. If Ole Miss got to a bowl game with what they had coming back, Auburn should manage the feat next season. We’ll be watching with great interest, regardless of who is hired to lead these men.