Auburn is 23 days away from the start of spring training with more than a few questions remaining. Auburn has some established returning talent, but there are five Tigers that need to make huge strides during the spring session.
There are issues that the Tigers face surrounding the quarterback position, the offensive line and on the defense. Overall, the Tigers also need to find leadership.
The Tigers do return 18 starters and a wealth of backups, giving them one of the most experienced rosters in the SEC and the country. The Tigers are poised to be a sleeper from the SEC West with the development of some key players.
These five Tigers will be crucial in determining which direction the season heads this fall.
Kiehl Frazier will walk into an open quarterback competition for the second time in his young Auburn career. Frazier stands a great chance to earn the position and for Auburn, and the Tigers need a quarterback like Frazier to develop into a star this spring.
The Tigers have exited spring training with a quarterback controversy for what seems like nearly the past decade. Frazier could curb that trend this season.
Frazier has all of the tools to be a very successful quarterback for Auburn. With HC Gene Chizik bringing in known quarterback developer OC Scot Loeffler, things really took an interesting turn for the Auburn quarterbacks.
When a guy like Tom Brady vouches for a coach, people tend to listen. Frazier should develop extremely well under Loeffler and likely turn out a great spring performance, turning him into the starter as the Tigers progress into summer drills.
Erique Florence saw playing time a season ago as a true freshman in a backup role to Neiko Thorpe.
Florence played relatively well in his time, especially considering his youth. This season needs to be a breakout year for the young safety.
The Tigers need the youth that has developed in the past two seasons to step up and become consistent playmakers in 2011. It starts with Florence.
Florence is likely to earn a starting nod this season, and with the ability that he possesses, he could become a very formidable defender for the Tigers. If Florence develops the way I expect he will under new defensive back coach Willie Martinez, Auburn will have a very dangerous threat in the deep third.
Florence was an elite recruit a year ago for a reason, the guy has the athletic ability to excel at this level. Given his tenacity on the field and solid awareness, expect a big spring from Florence.
Daren Bates has become quite a journeyman on the Plains since his late fall arrival in 2009 from Olive Branch High School in Mississippi as a 2-star.
Not much was expected of Bates from anyone, and most looked at the Tigers with questions when discussing the late addition of Bates. For all the doubters that were there, Bates had the determination to prove his worth.
His freshman season he started at safety and finished as an All-SEC freshman at the position.
Since then, Bates has made every pre-season and pre-spring article about "breakout" players, it's time for Bates to do more than he has in the past for the Tigers and step into that role. Leadership is a major capacity that is needed from Bates as he is a rare rising senior.
Bates moved to linebacker his sophomore year and has been a consistent contributor for the Tigers from outside linebacker, but at 5’11”, 205 pounds, he lacks ideal size for any linebacker role in the SEC.
Bates has worked hard to use his burst to his advantage and scrape off blocks to make it to the second level of the offense. He has had issues in the past finishing the play and making the tackle, so that should be a major point of emphasis this spring. Expect big things from Bates.
Auburn heads into spring with only two proven pass catchers that are on the roster, Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen.
Outside of those two, there have been some sporadic explosive performances, but nothing that has stood out as solid and consistent playmaking. Auburn may have the breakout player they were looking for in Sammie Coates.
Coates came in last season from Leroy High School, a lower-tiered program in the state of Alabama. Coates was a physical specimen when he arrived at Auburn but fell to the injury bug early, hampering his ability to come in and make an immediate impact.
With a red-shirt season under his belt, Coates looks the part this spring. He is a very athletic receiver with track-type speed. Coates should be able to fill the deep threat role that Auburn needs to explode in the passing game in 2012.
Reese Dismukes may have the most important role on the team this spring. The most glaring issue for the Auburn offense last season was spotty offensive line play.
The Tigers need leadership from across the lineup entering the spring practice sessions, and the offensive line may be the most vulnerable position that the Tigers have.
Dismukes has a full season of starting experience under his belt to pull from, so he should have what it takes to lead the pack and create a solid chemistry up front for the Tigers. Auburn needs that to happen.
Dismukes is in a natural leadership position for the Tigers playing center and will need to take the Tigers line to the next level this season. Dismukes is a key to the Tigers success this fall.