Let the Gene Chizik era at Auburn begin. Surrounded by a thick cloud of disappointment following Jay Jacob’s hire, few of us could believe our ears. Who was this guy? Personally, I was disappointed when I first heard the news over the radio. I wanted Will Muschamp to be our Head Coach.
However, after work that night, I went home and did some research on Chizik. I was not disappointed. Chizik had coordinator experience with Auburn and Texas in championship form. So, I hopped onto Bleacher Report and read all of the disappointed comments by Auburn fans.
I disagreed, if anything, Chizik had gotten the losing out of his system while serving at Iowa State. Chizik first decided to hold onto linebackers coach James Willis, and I really liked this because I knew Willlis, he’s a very nice guy and good coach.
Then came Gus Malzahn, perhaps the most innovative offensive coordinator in the country. Auburn fans may be skeptical, but Auburn will be lethal in the offensive hands of Gus Malzahn.
Operating the run and play-action scheme, defenses are going to be challenged. This offense is designed to tire out the defense, confuse them, and exploit mismatches. It is going to be fun to watch.
Back on track, Chizik then hired running backs coach Curtis Luper. Luper, an excellent recruiter, brought in his friend and fellow coach Trooper Taylor.
Taylor is another high caliber hire, along with being a great recruiter, Taylor is a very good coach. There were even rumors through Tennessee that he was an option for the once vacant head coaching job.
Following these hires with the likes of Jay Boulware and Jeff Grimes, was a little disappointing. But with the hiring of Ted Roof, I knew we were in great shape.
Unlike Paul Rhoads, Roof pushes a much more aggressive style defense. An aggressive defensive unit, very much like that of the 2004 team, which was coached by none other than Gene Chizik. By this time Coach James Willis had left, which was more than likely a result of Ted Roof taking the coordinator job, as Roof specializes in coaching linebackers.
Hiring one of the best Defensive line coaches is the country is not a bad thing either. People may question the last two hires of Tommy Thigpen and Phillip Lolley, but there is no need for that. Thigpen is an excellent recruiter, and although limited experience with coaching safeties, Thigpen teaches players how to tackle well.
Lolley also helped coach Auburn defensive backs through the 2002 and 2003 seasons. So, Auburn fans have reason to be excited. Our coaches want to turn Auburn into a championship caliber team.
Neil Caudle bares the best arm on the team, as well as the ability to make quick decisions. I’ve been calling it for a while, and I still believe Caudle is going to be our quarterback. Kodi Burns is my second guess.
He has stellar arm strenght, and should improve greatly all-around under the tutoring of Gus Malzahn. Chris Todd and Barrett Trotter, should both improve as well. A lot of people are wondering about the effectiveness of newcomer Tyrik Rollison, who has yet to qualify.
Any Auburn fans should pray he will. However, he will more than likely be redshirted this year, if he does qualify. Tyrik would be coming in too late to learn the offense, and lacking the experience to face an SEC defense. However, Auburn fans should like the following.
Rivals rated Tryik's arm to be the most accurate in the country of the 2009 class, and fifth strongest. Also, Rivals ranked him the fifth best scrambler of the quarterbacks in the class. The kid is a true play-maker, and if we really cared about stars, he deserves all five. But, he needs to get those grades up and improve his ACT.
Auburn loves their running backs! It's part of the Auburn tradition to emphasize the run game. Gus Malzahn likes to run the ball, unlike his predecessor Tony Franklin. Ben Tate has the size and speed to really be an asset in this new offense, I’d bet on him to have true a break-out performance this year. Mario Fannin, as well as newcomer Onterio McCalebb, are more speed backs.
Mario has much more size than Onterio, and may split carries with Tate, but these guys will be more of a receiver type for now. They can be really effective in an offense like this.
Most of the yards by these two men will probably be from the slot-receiver position, where they can most effectively use their speed from an open area of the field. By the way, don't forget Demond Washington, although fiercely recruited as a corner, I believe he is here to run the ball.
Dontae Aycock is looking to be a very motivated and talented young player, but he will likely red shirt this year.
We look a lot better, bigger, upfront this year. As I'm very pleased we have added some much needed size to the offensive line. Unfortunately, I believe we will again be overshadowed by Alabama this season. But, I'm hoping for the best, we need a lot of help here.
I have met many of the coaches, Jeff Grimes included, and I am still hesitant to say he is the "right" man for the job.
Since the day Chizik was hired, I said it from the start, "It depends on who he hires to be his assistants and coordinators." Jeff Grimes and Boulware are the only two I really question. Hopefully, with the much needed extra weight, Grimes can prove me wrong.
I'm so happy we now have a coach that ‘can’ and will coach our wide receivers. We have needed this for so long. Look for an immediate upgrade in the play of all of our receivers, less dropped balls and better route running. I like the receivers we have in spring training right now, but they're also going to need to block for our slot receiver or back.
We have some physical receivers; the most physical however, is not yet on campus. I'm not talking about Emory Blake, who I believe may red shirt this year if our receivers continue to improve. DeAngelo Benton, Benton is the definition of a physical wide-out.
He's fast and strong, and he plays like it. It is looking like he will qualify, and that would be amazing for Auburn. We would have a receiver that could play on the level of Julio Jones. Plus, I'm sure he can throw a block or two against corners and safeties that he dwarfs. I'm very excited about this position.
War Eagle Formation
Everyone seems to like Mario for this position; he can throw like a quarterback. But, why not just use Kodi, he can run like a running back. Malzahn has mentioned Mario as the front-runner for the War Eagle formation. However, if Kodi doesn't end up the starter, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kodi taking these ‘whatever-you-call-it’ snaps.
How cool is Wes Byrum!? Well, rolling into his junior season, not cool enough. According to Jay Boulware, the special teams coach, red shirt freshman Chandler Brooks leads the competition for starting kicker.
Morgan Hull seems to be lagging behind, but Byrum is not quite out of the picture yet. I guess the coaches really meant it when they said all positions were open.
Punt and Kick Returns
Everyone likes Mario Fannin, I do too, but Demond Washington is lovable. I think Washington will pick up a majority of the punt returns, as well as kicks. The partner kick returner is still a question. Maybe it will be Mario?
Just like the offensive line is the key to a successful offense, defensive backs are the key to a successful defense. This year is looking good for Auburn’s secondary. Aairon Savage seems to be healthy, and should be fully recovered for what will be his final season as an Auburn Tiger.
Savage would have been starting last year at the strong safety position, if I remember correctly. Being the most experienced of the defensive secondary, Chizik has yet to decide whether to play him at corner or safety. I believe his is still practicing without contact, but he could be ready by A-Day.
Due to Jerraud Powers’ injury last season several true freshmen were able to gain valuable playing experience. Among those freshmen were Neiko Thorpe, D’Antoine Hood, as well as wide receiver Harry Adams. Combined with the veteran experience of Walter McFadden, Coach Ted Roof should be all smiles.
As for the safeties, both starters will be returning this season. Zac Etheridge is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, leaving time for sophomore Drew Cole to step up and seize the spot.
Unfortunately, we have just lost safety Mike McNeil to injury, so it looks as if Aairon Savage will have an open position to return to. Please say a prayer for Mike, he’s a great player and person.
Good bye and good riddance Tray Blackmon, and hello Eltoro “The Bull” Freeman! Recruits’ sticking to their Auburn commitments throughout the coaching change were not expected, but this junior college transfer intends to have an impact on the new era of Auburn Tigers.
Returning to the strong side linebacker position is Craig Stevens, who ranked fourth in tackles last season. He is someone that has already impressed Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof.
Roof currently has him backed up by the talented Marcus Jemison, who has just been moved from the safety position. Returning to the middle linebacker position is Josh Bynes, who impressed many after having to fill in for an injured Tray Blackmon last season.
Eltoro Freeman looks earn his starting spot at the weak side, backed up by Spencer Pybus.
Pybus gained substantial experience as a freshman last season and starting with the first team in spring drills earlier this year, he can still contend for the No. 1 spot.
The D-line this year was looking kind of hairy. Coach Tracy Rocker did not seem impressed with their earlier performances. Fortunately for Auburn, Antonio Coleman had a big day on Saturday. He decided to return for his senior season, and he is a very talented guy with a lot of experience.
The unit is going to be fast, but it may take some time for them to all get in sync. Rocker, an Auburn All-American defensive lineman himself, knows what he is doing. This is going to take some work though, so don’t get too excited yet.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. Post any comments and let me know what you think. Have a nice day, God bless.