Auburn Football: The Offseason 'To Do' List for the Tigers
Auburn is heading into the winter workout session with a number of items on the “to do” list. The Tigers have a lot of ground to cover this offseason with new coaches in the fold and a host of returning talent that must be whittled down to a starting lineup.
The Tigers have to feel confident with the experience on both sides of the ball that returns, but there are no clear-starters at numerous key positions. There are questions that surround how the offense will look and feel like this coming fall as well as who will guide the Tigers.
Auburn also finds itself replacing another coach with the announcement of defensive backs coach Phillip Lolley returning to an administration role with the Tigers football program. With so many changes that the Tigers have faced this offseason, here are eight items that must find solutions for the Tigers to build steam heading into 2012.
Develop a Quarterback
Auburn heads into the 2012 season with two quarterbacks on the roster with experience. Both Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier saw playing time for the Tigers this past fall. By the end of the season, Moseley had earned the starting nod while Frazier was a consistent performer in the running game off of the bench.
Auburn will enter the season with four quarterbacks on scholarship as Zeke Pike has enrolled for the spring semester and Jonathan Wallace plans to join the team in the fall. Neither one of the new Tigers is expected to come in and earn time immediately, however, as Auburn will look to rely on the experience of Moseley and Frazier to find a starter this spring.
No quarterback on roster could be considered the starter currently. With a new coordinator all four will be on an even playing field with the three spring performers, Moseley, Frazier and Pike, expecting to get hard looks at the open audition set for spring training.
Scot Loeffler is known as a quarterback developer so the Tigers should find a formidable starter by season's beginning. Expect both Frazier and Moseley to battle tightly for the job, at least publicly, but I would expect one to step past the other by summer. A quarterback controversy kills mojo heading into fall camp; Auburn witnessed that process this past season.
Build a Starting Offensive Line
One of the biggest issues that hampered the Tigers offensive production this past season was a lack of continuity upfront. The Tigers offensive line was hit with an array of injuries and had inexperienced backups that filled roles last season.
Auburn had no less than three different offensive line rotations by season's end, something that does not typically render quality results. This year the Tigers benefit from two consecutive top five classes at offensive line and development that has come in the past two years both on and off the field for these linemen.
The Tigers return sophomore center Reese Dismukes who started every game last season as a true freshman. The Tigers also have Chad Slade, John Sullen and Eric Mack returning with game experience under their belts.
Auburn brought in two impact linemen a year ago in Christian Westerman and Greg Robinson. Both guys were listed as possible lineup busters early in 2011 but they took redshirts instead.
Add Westerman and Robinson to the list of experienced linemen and the Tigers look to have a solid base to build the 2012 line from. This will be the second-most important piece of development for the Tigers this offseason behind the quarterback. The Tigers can’t afford an effort similar to last season’s upfront.
Settle the Secondary
Auburn has struggled in the past three seasons to stop any resemblance of a passing game that has crossed their path. The Tigers have been downright awful at stopping the pass but this season has to bring about a change.
The Tigers return a wealth of talent and experience to the secondary in 2012. T’Sharvan Bell will be only one of two fifth-year seniors on roster this fall and he will earn a start at one of the cornerback positions. Bell has become one of the most vocal defensive leaders in the past two years. The second remaining fifth-year senior is Drew Cole, a reserve safety.
The Tigers also return talented corners in Jonathon Mincy, Jonathan Rose, Chris Davis, Robenson Therezie and Jermaine Whitehead. All five have seen playing time with Whitehead earning the start at nickelback last season and Davis earning the start at corner.
The Tigers also return a host of talent at safety with Ryan White, Erique Florence, Ikeem Means and Demetruce McNeal. McNeal and White have started consistently in the past and both Florence and Means earned time last season as well. Means is a former walk-on while Florence was a true freshman in 2011.
The Tigers have choices to pull from to fill the roster in the secondary this fall but new coordinator Brian VanGorder will have his hands full picking starters. Each player brings a unique strength and weakness to the playing field so finding the right mix of players is a tough science.
Once the Tigers sift through the roster and find the right mix, the talent is there for this secondary to become one of the best that has been on the Plains in some time.
Find Playmakers at Linebacker
Last season the Tigers not only struggled mightily in the secondary but there was also a severe lack of execution from the linebacker unit. The Tigers could not seem to shed blocks and were horrible at the onset of the season finishing tackles.
The Tigers see the return of Daren Bates, Jonathan Evans and Jake Holland this season. All were starters for the Tigers last season. Auburn also returns playmakers like Justin Garrett and Jawara White. It is rumored that Ladarius Owens may also make the move back to linebacker this offseason.
Auburn will be able to have Kris Frost at their disposal this season as well. Frost was a 5-star recruit out of high school that came to Auburn with a body ready to play. Shoulder surgery delayed his impact, but expect Frost to be flying around the football this fall.
With the returning talent and experience the Tigers have, this is another unit that has to simply piece itself together and find chemistry this offseason. Coach Brian VanGorder has specialized in linebackers his entire career so there will likely be a special attention placed on this position. VanGorder’s intensity will likely rub off and produce effective, playmaking linebackers appear in orange and blue in 2012.
Determine Offensive Identity
The Tigers lost a three-year offensive coordinator when Gus Malzahn made known his plans to take over as head coach at Arkansas State for the 2012 season. Gene Chizik took the search for his replacement past 40 days before matching with his “fit” for Auburn.
Scot Loeffler was hired away from Temple to take over for the Tigers offense. Loeffler is a young up-and-coming coordinator that has a background that covers all facets of offensive football philosophy.
Loeffler played and studied under Lloyd Carr at Michigan where as a graduate assistant he was calling plays. Loeffler then made stops at Central Michigan, the Detroit Lions and Florida before landing at Temple. All along the way Loeffler was known as a bright, skilled quarterback developer.
The big question that surrounds Loeffler entering the offseason is what type of scheme will he bring to the Tigers? Loeffler has been surrounded by the spread in the past few seasons with Florida and Temple, but he has also studied under the “pro-style” coached by the Lions and the Michigan Wolverines under Carr.
Having knowledge of both sets, expect a lot of multiplicity from Auburn’s offense. Loeffler is likely to produce the most success by mixing schemes and keeping defenses off balance. Expect a return to under center for the majority of snaps as well. Auburn will look similar at times to past formations, but there will be a huge change this fall for the Tigers offensive scheme.
Hire a Defensive Assistant
Tuesday, February 7, it was announced that secondary assistant coach Phillip Lolley would return to an administrative position with the Tigers starting immediately. This leaves a spot open on the Tigers staff for a new assistant.
There was some speculation that there may be some changes on staff with the hiring of VanGorder, and Lolley back to admin was one of the most likely scenarios that looked to occur. With that exact scenario happening, where will the Tigers look to complete the defensive coaching staff?
One name that may be worth keeping an eye on is Willie Martinez. Martinez coached under VanGorder during his time at Georgia and took over as coordinator when he departed for the Falcons. Martinez spent two seasons at Oklahoma as the secondary coach after his four-year tenure as a defensive coordinator at Georgia.
Martinez is known as a great recruiter and talented secondary coach as he has coached 14 players that have been drafted in the past 10 years.
The Tigers could shift responsibility of the secondary to coachs already on staff and bring in a coach for another position, however, that doesn’t seem to be the popular thought process at this time. Martinez would be a great addition for the Tigers and having worked with VanGorder in the past it seems like a natural fit.
Find and Develop a True Vertical Threat
Auburn had serious issues last fall making plays in the passing game. The Tigers relied on playmaker Emory Blake to carry the passing game, but when a high ankle sprain limited his catches by midseason, the Tigers looked lost in the passing game.
The Tigers must find some help this fall for Blake on the outside. Blake is a great receiver for the Tigers and their biggest playmaker in the passing game, but he is more of a possession type guy. Auburn has athletes on roster than could make big moves this spring and summer. Blake needs it to happen.
Sammie Coates was rumored to be on his way to playing time for this very reason last season, but his true freshman campaign was relegated to a redshirt season after a foot injury sidelined his season.
Coates is the most likely option for Auburn to find on the outside making plays behind the secondary. He has good size, he lists at 6’2”, 180, and clocks a 4.3 40. If Coates stays healthy, he stands to be a playmaker for the Tigers this fall.
Make Spring Recruiting Evaluations
As the 2012 recruiting season reaches its close, the Tigers coaching staff is evaluating talent for the 2013 and 2014 classes. Recruiting has recently become a yearlong affair for fans, but for coaches it has always been the lifeblood of their programs and a part of the game that never stopped.
Gene Chizik has done an excellent job finding great coaches and phenomenal recruiters to fill his staff. This past season Trooper Taylor was listed as a Top 25 recruiter by Rivals.com. The Tigers are looking to make headway into the 2013 class already with early commitments from defensive lineman Dee Liner and linebacker Trey Johnson.
The coaching staff will look to continue to make early strides in the recruiting game as commitments are coming earlier and earlier as of late. Auburn has built extremely talented classes in the past three seasons and everything points to another highly-rated class in 2013.
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