Auburn started fall camp last week with a lot of position battles remaining up for grabs heading into the 2012 season. The Tigers have pushed through the first few days of fall camp and some of the position battles that are driving fall camp are becoming clearer.
The Tigers have questions swirling around every position group on offense, and a few key battles that are taking place on the defense. As the Tigers move closer to kickoff, these key positions will be settled, but some may continue to see movement as the season progresses.
With one week of preseason practice quickly coming to a close, here are the six position battles to keep an eye on over the final weeks of fall camp.
The boundary receiver position is set in stone—just ask Emory Blake. The field receiver position is one that continues to draw attention with Auburn having a number of players battling to earn the starting spot.
The early favorite for the field receiver position is Travante Stallworth. Stallworth had a huge game to start the season in 2011 against Utah State, catching four passes for 93 yards and one touchdown. Stallworth finished the season with only 13 total receptions and a meager 214 yards—more production is needed this fall.
Stallworth is a rising senior and is looking for a big final season on the Plains. At this point he appears to be the front-runner, but there is a lot of talent nipping at his heels pushing for snaps.
Other names that are gaining attention at the position are Jaylon Denson, Sammie Coates, Melvin Ray and DeAngelo Benton.
The right guard position was expected to be a fierce battle between Christian Westerman and Eric Mack heading into the fall. After the University Heights shooting that occurred in Auburn, Mack has been absent from fall camp to this point.
Mack was injured in the fatal shooting that killed two former Tigers players, but has since recovered from his wounds.
There may be a point where Mack returns to the field—he is still officially listed on the Tigers' roster—but the continuing stress affiliated with such a traumatic event has seemingly kept him away which is understandably so.
Westerman has taken an unofficial lead in the battle for the position, but rising freshmen Alex Kozan and Jordan Diamond are pushing behind Westerman. Another name to watch could be Chad Slade who is currently taking reps at right tackle.
One of the deepest positions on the Auburn roster entering fall camp is the defensive line. The Tigers have a wealth of talented players that are ready to make an impact, but the defensive end position opposite of Corey Lemonier is one to watch.
Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae appear to be the leading candidates for the job with both coming off of injuries in 2011.
Eguae has a size advantage over Ford—granted it is only 12 pounds—but Ford is extremely explosive off of the end and has been consistent as a run-stopping threat. Ford’s ability to reach the quarterback with consistency gives him an early lead in the competition, but don’t count out Eguae—he is the incumbent starter at the position.
The Auburn Tigers are playing musical chairs at the linebacker position this fall with a number of players cross training on the outside. No position is certain, but the strong-side linebacker spot is the most glaring hole on the squad.
Kris Frost is the expected starter at the position, but the new defense that defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is installing is very complex for the linebackers. Veterans like Jake Holland—the incumbent starter in the middle—are having trouble making the proper reads early in camp.
Jonathan Evans is a rising senior that is battling at the strong-side position with Frost, but he has been a journeyman linebacker throughout his career and it will likely continue this fall. Frost is the best option physically, but the mental side has to catch up before September 1st for him to solidify the position.
The Auburn Tigers have a stable of running backs heading into the 2012 season with Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason listed as the starters. Who fills the spot behind them is what is up for discussion.
Auburn running backs coach Curtis Luper told reporters "I'm pretty certain that Tre and Onterio can help us win in this league, but we need that third guy to help us."
So who takes the third spot for the Tigers?
Luper has had high marks for the effort and athleticism of Corey Grant so far, but Mike Blakely has come on strong this fall as well. Jovon Robinson is an incoming true freshman that has turned heads in camp, but he appears to be a long shot for the position.
Mike Blakely is undoubtedly the most natural back that the Tigers have right now, but his inconsistency during spring practice has made coaches leery of labeling him an instant impact player.
Expect multiple formations that will have a number of backs on the field at once—think 2004—but right now there isn’t a front-runner for the coveted No. 3 running back position.
At this point, there is no listed starter at the quarterback position for the Tigers. The coaches continue to keep to the line that the competition is open between Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley, but a nagging shoulder injury that limited Moseley’s impact this spring has continued.
The first official scrimmage of fall camp is expected to happen Wednesday, August 8th and it would be fitting for the Tigers' coaches to name the starter shortly after the scrimmage.
There is no reason for the competition to continue much further if the Tigers have settled on a starter, but with so much transition happening with the new Scot Loeffler offense, the coaches are making the right move by delaying the announcement.
It is no secret that Kiehl Frazier appears to be the front-runner, but no decision has been made. Until then, the quarterback battle will draw the most eyes during fall camp.