Auburn 2010 Preview: Grading The Tigers

Donny PenningtonCorrespondent IJuly 28, 2010

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 27:  Mario Fannin #27 of the Auburn Tigers against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 27, 2009 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Offensive Line: A-

It all starts up front in the SEC and to have any legitimate shot you have to have a solid Offensive Line.  Auburn has that returning 4 Senior starters.  They'll have a newcomer to the line in Juco transfer Roszell Gayden who was a highly regarded recruit in 2010.  Star of the Group:  Lee Ziemba

Running Backs:  B+ 

I really wanted to say A here because the talent is there with Fannin, McCalleb, Eric Smith and super recruit Michael Dyer.  But I'm trying to be objective here and McCalleb lacks the size to be an every down SEC back and Fannin has a history of fumbling the football.  By years end, I don't think anyone will doubt they are an A unit.  Star of the Group:  Mario Fannin (Dyer's turn is coming)

Wide Receivers: A

This is arguably the strength of the team.  A deep unit that is very talented and fast.  I hesitate slightly to say they are actually better than the '04 group but they are definitely on the right page to be.  Headlined by Adams and Zachery who nabbed most of the catches in 2009 this group is stacked with talent from top to bottom.  Star of the Group:  Darvin Adams

Quarterback:  B

I almost gave this one a B-.  There's loads of potential for a solid group that could rate an A, but there's just no real experience.  Neil Caudle is the most experienced of the group and has one career start.  Star of the Group: Cameron Newton

Defensive Line:  B

This has promise to be a very good group.   Saying that is actually an understatement.  This group could dominate.  However, "promise" and "could" aren't worthy of the statement yet.  This is a prove it group.  They have disruptive playmakers all the way across the line and I think Nick Fairley could be something special.  Star of the Group:  Nick Fairley (although Mike Blanc or Antoine Carter could have easily been the pick)

Linebacker:  A-

The first 3 are awesome, hard working, dedicated, and proven.  After that.. ?  A solid recruiting class and the addition of Darren Bates to the playing rotation along side the Seniors Josh Bynes and Craig Stephens should make the depth issue a thing we talk about historically.  Star of the Group:  Draw Craig Stephens and Josh Bynes.. both are just outstanding

Corner Backs:  B-

Yes I know.  The lowest graded unit on the team.  I don't think it's a bad unit at all.  I actually think it'll be a good unit but coming off injuries is always a question mark and I'm not sold on Neiko Thorpe yet.  Star of the Group:  Neiko Thorpe (unless Savage plays CB then he'll be the defacto leader)

Safeties:  B

Aaron Savage, Mike McNeil and Zac Ethridge return to this group and they would rate an A if all 3 weren't coming off injury.  They have experience and talent and speed and all the intangibles to be great.  Aaron Savage is 24 years old and has been at Auburn for an astounding 6 years.  He's like an extra coach on the field.  Star of the Group:  Aaron Savage

Special Teams - Kickers:  A

Ryan Shoemaker is the Senior returning punter and he's solid but not spectacular.  The field goals will be handled by the well known and highly regarded place kicker Wes Byrum.  Byrum burst onto the national stage by making not 1 but 2 game winning field goals on the road in the Swamp Vs the eventual national champion Florida Gators.  After a sophomore slump he rebounded in 2009 making every extra point try and 15-16 field goals.  Star of the Group:  Wes Byrum

Returns:  B

Desmond Washington took one to the house against Georgia in 2009.  After that, not much to really say about the what is coming back from last year except that maybe Pierre-Louis could finally live up to billing and be a solid guy who can catch a punt.  The incoming freshman class has a couple of guys (most notably Trovon Reed) who could more than fill the void in the return game.  Star of the Group:  Trovon Reed

Coaching Staff:  B+

Gene Chizik and staff had a great opening act in 2009.  The offense turned around from a dismal 2008 and finished 16th nationally.  The defense was dicey at best but that might just be a depth issue.  The entire staff returns in tact for the 2010 season and look to further build on the team they are developing on the plains.  Excellent recruiting is assisting in that development.  Star of the Group:  Gus Malzahn