Auburn Football: Why QB Battle Shouldn't Be Gene Chizik's Biggest Worry
Gene Chizik is headed toward his fourth season as the Auburn head coach. Not once has the quarterback position been settled when the Tigers moved into fall camp. Not having a named starter is a concern, but the quarterback battle shouldn’t be Chizik’s biggest worry.
This summer will bring development at a number of positions for the Tigers program. There are a few groups that need massive overhauls, while other positions will be making minor tweaks to the way they handle daily business on the field.
As the summer months pull into view, the Tigers coaches and players have a lot to attempt to digest before this fall.
These are the worries that will outweigh the quarterback race for Gene Chizik this summer.
Catching Passes is a Bigger Issue
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Last season there were a number of big plays that were busted by bad execution by the Tigers offense. Auburn didn’t really have as many accuracy issues in the passing game as advertised, but they did need Stick ‘Um. Too bad it is outlawed.
Barrett Trotter finished with a 55.1 CMP% and a rating of 129.20. He was average, but not terrible. Clint Moseley finished with a 61.1 CMP% and a rating of 133.05. Again, average but moderate numbers that are manageable in the future.
Auburn has one consistent receiver in Emory Blake and one tight end threat with Philip Lutzenkirchen. Onterio McCalebb was the second best receiver on the team a year ago. That doesn’t need to be repeated this season.
Auburn has to improve the ability to make plays in the passing game. The play action will be crucial for the Tigers offense, but without playmakers to make plays, the Tigers will be stagnant.
Chizik has to have this problem circled on the white board.
Photo via al.com
The depth issues that are following the Tigers into the 2012 season at linebacker are no secret. Auburn has three players with solid starting experience, one other with occasional playing time and a host of freshmen.
It looks like one of the talented redshirt freshmen will earn a start. Kris Frost is a favorite to win a starting outside linebacker job over Jonathan Evans.
Middle linebacker is where the Tigers are most thin currently. The Tigers return starter Jake Holland and senior Ashton Richardson—who moved to middle during the spring—and redshirt freshman Chris Landrum.
The Tigers do bring in all-star recruit Cassanova McKinzy this summer to help fill out the depth chart. McKinzy has the size and athleticism to make an impact immediately.
The Tigers have scattered talent at linebacker, but they are dreadfully thin with experience. If the starting rotation of five—Kris Frost, Jake Holland, Daren Bates, Jonathan Evans and Justin Garrett—face injury this fall, the Tigers will struggle.
This needs to be a strong defensive season for Auburn and Gene Chizik knows it. He is worried about his depth here way more than a quarterback race.
Offensive Line Has to Gel
Sr. John Sullen | Photo via al.com
This season the Tigers offensive line will see another overhaul. The Tigers will start four underclassmen on the line. One senior—John Sullen—will be in the starting rotation.
Last season the Tigers were plagued with injury and inconsistency along the offensive front. It was a large part of their troubles from the quarterback position when they faced upper-level competition.
This season the Tigers will need to gel early as they face off against a formidable foe in the first week of the season. Clemson will be ready for Auburn, but the Tigers from the Carolinas have a lot of questions at defensive line heading into the 2012 season.
Auburn will need to get a good push early up front so they can gain some steam and confidence. If the Tigers can get big yards from the rushing attack in game one, the Tigers will win big.
With the youth that will be present on the starting offensive line this season, this is a position that will be on the mind of coach Chizik more often than the quarterback race.
Running Back Could Help Distribute Offensive Load
RB Corey Grant | Todd Van Emst Photo
Auburn has a host of options at the tailback position this year. The Tigers return experienced starters in Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason. The Tigers will also have transfers Mike Blakely and Corey Grant on the field.
When you add in the summer enrollment of Jovon Robinson, the Tigers backfield looks extremely dangerous this coming season.
Gene Chizik knows that his quarterback will need to be ready for the opening game, but deciding when he labels a starter is not nearly as heavy a concern as running back development.
Auburn has the talent, getting that to translate on the field is a different animal. Auburn will have the tools, but it will be up to new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to put them in position to perform.
The running game will be a major portion of the offense in the first few games as the Tigers work in a new quarterback. Running back is a primary offensive concern this offseason. Finding consistency on the ground is a concern that must be met with positive results this fall.
Naming a Starting Quarterback Was Not a Goal for Spring
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Auburn approached spring practice with an open quarterback competition. Fifteen practices later, nothing appears to be settled.
The Tigers saw Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier begin the battle for the starting position, but an injury to Moseley dampened the fierce competition that was expected.
No coach would announce an open competition and then call it on a nagging injury formality. The injury to Moseley solidified that there would not be a starter named at the conclusion of spring.
Entering spring, Gene Chizik and new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler made it clear that naming a starter wasn’t a major concern. Installing the new offense was. Spring settled with a lot of positives and few negatives for the Tigers. The quarterback play and development was actually a positive.
Even though the staff did not name a leader or starter at quarterback, watching film of practices from spring and seeing Frazier rep consistently with the first team center leads to calculated assumptions.
I expect Frazier is already in the driver’s seat at quarterback, easing concerns that Chizik has about the position.