Auburn Football: Positions That Must Develop for Tigers to Be Title Contenders

Brett MixonContributor IAugust 29, 2012

Auburn Football: Positions That Must Develop for Tigers to Be Title Contenders

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    Every team in college football will be a very different team from the one that took the last snap in 2011. Players graduate, transfer or get drafted into the National Football League. 

    Sometimes, it just takes an offseason for positions that were weaknesses the season prior to become strengths the next year. 

    Last year, Auburn looked lost at times on defense and then came out and played one of its best games of the season in the bowl game. All it took was 15 extra practices and a new person calling the plays. 

    For the Tigers to be successful this year, more improvement is needed. There are going to be positions that must have developed during the offseason and continue to develop during the season if the Tigers want to have any mention in the SEC title conversation when the calendar turns to November. 

    Here are the top five...

Left Tackle

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    If possible, the entire offensive line would be chosen as a group that must improve. Unfortunately, that is not within the parameters of this column.

    Most people would agree that the game of football is won in the trenches. It does not matter what type of offense is being run; if a team can win at the line of scrimmage, chances are that it is going to win the ballgame (see 2010 BCS National Championship Game).

    A big part of winning that battle is protecting the QB’s blind side. It is quite often that a big turnover or an injury to the QB is caused from a blitzing linebacker or defensive end that comes from the blind side. This is why left tackle is a position that must improve for Auburn to be attached to any sort of conversation that has the word “title” in it in 2012.

    Last year, A.J. Greene saw most of the playing time at left tackle. Everyone knows what happened last year along the offensive front. The offensive line really struggled against the top defensive lines in the league. This led to Barrett Trotter or Clint Moseley feeling a lot of pressure, which led to poor throws and/or interceptions.

    Auburn must have better protection up front at the left tackle position in order to have a successful season. The Tigers will look to Greg Robinson for improvement at the position.

    Robinson, who will be the first Auburn left tackle to start a season with zero starts, has all the tools to become a great left tackle for Auburn. 

    Size? Check. Robinson stands tall at 6’5" and 311 lbs.

    Talent? Check. Robinson was ranked by Rivals as the No. 2 offensive guard in the nation in 2010. He is going to need that size and talent since he will be matching up against some of the best defensive ends in the Southeastern Conference.

    Robinson redshirted last year, as he got acclimated to the college game and all the duties that went along with being a student–athlete. Robinson’s teammates say that he has had a great camp and they expect big things from him. He will be tested early and often, and Auburn fans will find out if he is up to the challenge

Middle Linebacker

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    Jake Holland attempted to play through injuries last year, and it hampered his productivity. The lack of productivity earned Holland some criticism from Auburn fans.

    After a few weeks, the coaches turned to Eltoro Freeman to start at middle linebacker.

    In a run-heavy league like the SEC, the middle linebacker plays a big role in filling gaps and stopping the run. Holland will also be responsible for the alignment of the linebackers and defensive linemen. Recent reports from fall camp have been very positive about Holland.

    With a much improved defensive line, an improved Jake Holland at middle linebacker will be great news for an Auburn defense that is looking to get its groove back that it had pre–Gene Chizik. 

Cornerback

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    Walt McFadden may be an exception, but Auburn has not had very good cornerback play since the departure of Jerraud Powers.

    Chris Davis, Ryan White and T’Sharvan Bell will get an opportunity to change that. They will need to if Auburn wants to be successful this year.

    This was written in the season preview, but needs to be said again: For an attacking style of defense like Brian Van Gorder’s is, the cornerbacks need to be trusted in man-to-man coverage. This allows for more blitzes and pressure on the offense. With zone coverage, the cornerbacks can count on the safeties to help as well as the outside linebackers or nickelbacks.

    Van Gorder will still run some zone coverages, but will also be bringing pressure a lot more than Ted Roof did.

    Looking at Van Gorder’s past defenses, they share one thing in common. There is at least one shutdown corner. With the Falcons, Van Gorder had Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, two above-average NFL cornerbacks. With UGA, Van Gorder had cornerbacks like DeMario Minter and Tim Jennings.

    Auburn will need that type of play from Davis, White and Bell for this defense to be relentless in attacking opposing offenses.

    Davis took a knee to the head last year against Clemson and was not quite himself until later in the year.

    Ryan White may be better known for being the holder on extra points than his play so far. White has used Van Gorder's arrival as a chance to start over.

    Bell is coming back from a knee injury he suffered against UGA last fall. He is as close to 100 percent as he is going to get and is expected to play at cornerback when Auburn goes to the nickel defense. 

A Wide Receiver Not Named Emory Blake

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    Stagnant. Torpid. Lethargic. These words describe the Auburn offense last year after Emory Blake suffered an injury. Opposing coaches knew that without Blake, there was no other established down-field receiving threat. This allowed them to put eight men in the box and shut down the Auburn offense.

    For Auburn to have success this season, Quan Bray, Trovon Reed, Travante Stallworth, Ricardo Louis and Sammie Coates must step up and become a legitimate receiving threat.

    In defense of Stallworth’s lack of productivity last season, he did suffer an injury. He performed well against Utah State and Clemson.   

    Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor thinks that Sammie Coates has the big-play ability to become the secondary threat that this Auburn offense needs.

    Trovon Reed has reportedly worked very hard this offseason to become bigger, faster and stronger.

    Emory Blake seems to think that Auburn has the depth this season

Quarterback

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    You did not think that you would get through a whole post without reading about the quarterback, did you? You should know better.

    In not-so-breaking news, the quarterback play must improve from last year in order for Auburn to be a serious contender in the SEC West, and consequentially, the SEC and national title races.

    There are a lot of assumptions (both good and bad) about Kiehl Frazier’s ability just based off of what he accomplished at Springdale (Ark.) high school and/or last year. It is not safe to assume anything based on either of those.

    To base your assumptions off of high school will probably leave you with high expectations coming into this year. All we can take from his high school days is that Frazier has a strong arm and can extend a play when things break down. To assume beyond that would be foolish because he was not going up against the types of defenses he is going to see all year this year.

    To base your assumptions off last year is equally foolish because every team knew that he was going to run the ball when he came into the game. The sample size we have of Frazier’s throwing ability is too small to pass judgement.

    Sure, Frazier has been tabbed as “mini Cam Newton,” and he very well may be. For all we know, he could wind up being better than the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner.

    Frazier has adapted well to Scot Loeffler’s coaching, and he has made a lot of progress in his mechanics, but Auburn fans will not be able to form an opinion on their new quarterback until Saturday.

    The only certainty is that Frazier has high expectations to live up to, and he must come somewhere near those expectations for Auburn to be in the mix for a division, conference and national crown.