Auburn Football: Top Spring Practice Storylines to Watch

Ian BergCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2013

Nov 3, 2012; Auburn, AL, USA:  Auburn Tigers quarterback Jonathan Wallace (12) throws a pass against the New Mexico State Aggies during the first half at Jordan-Hare Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The Auburn Tigers are heading into spring with a new head coach and a new era of football beginning on the Plains. 

This program struggled last year under Gene Chizik during his final season, finishing the 2012 season 3-9 and winless in the conference. The change back to a championship contender happens this spring. 

The quarterback race is one that the country will have its eyes on as the Tigers try and find a starter between only two scholarship backs this spring in Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace.

In the backfield the Tigers are returning leading rusher Tre Mason, but the departure of Mike Blakely (transfer) and Onterio McCalebb leaves some holes in the lineup. 

The Tigers are also hoping that new defensive line coach Rodney Garner can make an immediate impact in the aggression that the defensive front has been missing. 

The Gus Malzahn regime is bringing three storylines to spring football that have to be followed. This is a look at the plots driving spring. 


Quarterback Development

 The quarterback position at Auburn is once again wide open, but it won’t be a concern for Gus Malzahn. In seven years in college coaching, six have started with a quarterback with no starting experience. 

The Tigers only have two quarterbacks on scholarship entering the spring, but both Frazier and Wallace have started in the past. 

Malzahn will walk into spring looking to find a leader at the position. The Tigers have a JUCO quarterback enrolling this summer in Nick Marshall, and incoming freshmen in Jason Smith and Jeremy Johnson. 

Johnson is the fan favorite to take over the starting role in time, but Wallace should be the leader heading into spring after the impressive close he had to 2012 as a freshman. 


Backfield Progression

Auburn didn’t rely on the ground attack as often as it should have in 2012 and that killed offensive production. With the return of Gus Malzahn will come an increased focus on the ground game, and it should turn around the Tigers' offensive production in just one offseason.

The Tigers are looking for playmakers from the backfield with a few players departing after last season. 

Tre Mason is the de facto starter after leading the Tigers in rushing a year ago, but incoming JUCO transfer Cameron Artis-Payne will challenge for starting snaps this spring. 

The Tigers will also hope that Corey Grant can pick up some of the slack left behind by the departure of McCalebb as the speed back in the Malzahn offense. 

Auburn will build the 2013 offense around the ground game, and it will start this spring by finding playmakers to build the offense around. 


Defensive Line Breakthroughs

The defensive line went into 2012 with very high expectations, but it fell fall short in production. 

Auburn was expected to be loaded all along the line with top talent, but none of it seemed to develop into playmakers that were SEC ready. 

Enter Rodney Garner. 

The Tigers lost the gritty mentality that helped the Tigers win the 2010 national title upfront defensively and have played soft for two years. Garner will change that. 

The Tigers also signed early enrollee JUCO transfer Ben Bradley who will be an immediate help for Auburn on the defensive line. 

This unit needs to have a breakthrough this spring and Bradley may be the spark that is needed to get some production out of the talent already found on roster. 

If the Tigers can take care of these three focus points this spring, a major turnaround could happen on the Plains this fall.