When looking for a new offensive coordinator, Gene Chizik wanted to return to the Auburn style of offensive football. He wants the offense to protect the defense. That is not something Auburn has had the past three years.
Two minutes after making a big stop, the defense would be right back out there. It is hard to win football games and hard to stop opposing offenses that way. Gus Malzahn's system is proven to be successful, and he was the right hire for Auburn at the time. Records were broken and championships were won, but it is not an offense that can have consistent success in the defensive league of the SEC. So Chizik turned his eyes north and snatched Scot Loeffler from Temple to be his offensive coordinator.
There will be a lot of different things that will happen on the offensive side of the ball this year. For one, you will see a strange thing that other football teams do called a "huddle." The QB will be under center, and there will be concepts from both the pro and spread style of offense. Loeffler has worked in both styles, pro style at Michigan under Lloyd Carr and Spread style under Urban Meyer at Florida.
What plagued Auburn so much last year was the offensive line. It should have been expected after losing one of the top offensive line units following the 2010 season. It almost seemed unfair last year at times going against the LSU and Alabama defensive lines with Auburn being so young up front.
The youth part hasn't changed, and there will be struggles on the offensive line again this year. They are already off to a bad start with the suspension of Reese Dismukes. Tunde Fariyike or John Sullen is expected to start at center while Dismukes serves his suspension. With the move to a more NFL-style offense, one has to expect that there will be a lot more communication needed from the offensive linemen. Defensive coordinators will throw the kitchen sink at the young offensive line with complex stunts and blitzes.
The offensive line will most likely only have one player above the sophomore level. They will look to senior John Sullen for leadership. Kiehl Frazier does have much more mobility than Clint Moseley or Barrett Trotter did last season. He will most likely have to use that mobility and extend plays with his legs.
The 2012 recruiting class brought on seven offensive linemen. It was thought of by many recruiting analysts to be one of the top two offensive line classes in the country. Patrick Miller and Alex Kozan are just two true freshmen that may see significant playing time this year. This offensive line has an extremely bright future, but will once again have struggles against the top defensive lines in the league.
When it comes to receivers and tight ends, we know what Emory Blake and Phillip Lutzenkirchen can do. After all, Lutzenkirchen is German for "Touchdown Maker" (loosely translated). Both players were selected to the preseason All-SEC Team.
The big question is, who will draw the attention away from those two? Last year, Blake dealt with injuries for half of the year, and the QB rarely had time to get the ball to them. Deangelo Benton had been having a strong camp until it was announced that he has been suspended indefinitely. Trovon Reed is someone that Auburn expects to have a big year. Reed came to Auburn as a blue chip recruit, but injuries have derailed him thus far.
It is expected that Loeffler will use Reed the same way that Florida used Percy Harvin. Quan Bray will be used in the same fashion. Look for Ricardo Louis and Sammie Coates to get plenty of opportunities this fall as well.
This offense will also have offensive sets that feature multiple tight ends. There will be formations where Brandon Fulse and CJ Uzomah will be on the field at the same time as Lutzenkirchen. Having a safety valve in these tight ends will take some pressure off of Frazier if nothing else is there.
Just like the offensive linemen, the receivers have to learn a very complex offensive system that depends on timing, spacing and route depth. Malzahn's offensive system had routes that didn't really change. The receivers simply had to do their assigned route.
Loeffler's system will require more reads and communication among the receivers. A poorly-timed route or someone at the wrong depth can create a busted play. This group of receivers and tight ends has everything in place to be one of the best in the SEC.
It does not matter who the offensive coordinator is. Auburn will always put a high priority on running the football. Loeffler is no expection.
The running back position will look much different in 2012. No Mike Dyer. No Jovon Robinson. Fortunately for Auburn, those two players play in a position where Auburn has plenty of depth. There usually isn't a shortage of talent at running back for Auburn. As talented as Dyer is, many around the Auburn program will say that losing him was addition by subtraction. Auburn was counting on Jovon Robinson to be the bruiser and next star in the making. He hopes to be enrolled at Auburn next spring or fall.
Auburn has Tre Mason, Corey Grant, Mike Blakely and of course, Onterio McCalebb. Tre Mason had a strong performance in the Chick-Fil-A bowl against UVA. He rushed nine times for 64 yards and a touchdown. Mason has great speed, and he has the size to run the ball between the tackles.
Corey Grant has been described as the fastest guy on the team by some. That's saying something when you play with a guy who has caught a squirrel like McCalebb. He sat out last year after he transferred from Alabama. He most likely will not get as many touches as the other running backs but with the loss of Robinson, but he should get his chances. Gene Chizik recently rewarded him with a scholarship for his hard work.
Mike Blakely is another transfer. He came from Florida after completing spring practice with the Gators.
Then, there is McCalebb. Once he got over his issue of tripping over the yard lines, McCalebb proved that his speed and ability to turn the corner is a game-changer. He has put on some more weight, but he still can't be expected to carry the ball 20-30 times a game.
All-American Fullback Jay Prosch was the biggest addition this offseason for Auburn. Not only are his calves the size of a normal person's head, he loves to hit people and open up running lanes. He will have a big impact on the running backs and will help the young offensive lineman protect Frazier.
Last but not least, the quarterback position will be a big question mark for Auburn unless Frazier plays lights out the first couple of games. Did Gene Chizik have on his poker face with the QB challenge? Everyone but him knew who the starting QB was going to be. Or did Frazier really not perform better than someone with a bum shoulder or someone who was attending his senior prom last year?
The most surprising thing to come out of camp besides the longevity of the QB race has been the revelation that Gus Malzahn apparently didn't teach his QB's mechanics. Stan White on WJOX said, "Malzahn only taught his system, Loeffler teaches mechanics and his system."
Frazier had been recruited by Malzahn since he was a middle-schooler. However, it seems that Frazier has taken better to Loeffler's style of coaching. Frazier only threw 12 passes last year, and to have called him a QB would be an insult to the position. He was a running back. You cannot surmise that Frazier is a bad passer based solely on his performance last year.
No Auburn fan wants to think about this, but what if Frazier gets hurt? Moseley says that he could go in there if he has to but he also says that he would be "put on the DL" if he were a baseball player. Chizik said that Moseley is the clear backup, but it is hard to see them putting Moseley in there should an injury occur.
Frazier certainly has the potential to have a remarkable career at Auburn, and most believe that he will. The coaches will definitely ease him in and not ask him to do too much too early. The last thing that needs to happen is him getting off to a slow start and losing all of his confidence. If the offensive line can give Frazier some protection, he could have a special year.