With the next college football season quickly approaching, now is a good time to examine the overall state of any football program. A new recruiting class is on campus, fall camp has begun, and optimism can be found on every college campus.
Each year, the president of the United States gives a “State of the Union” address to the nation, discussing the challenges, successes, and needs of the country. In a sense, that’s what this is—just about Auburn football.
We know a lot more about Auburn than we did at this time last year. An entire coaching staff has returned for year two under Gene Chizik. A group of 24 seniors will lead Auburn this season, with hopes of competing for the SEC title.
A strong 2010 recruiting class has brought some very positive momentum to the program. Many of those who were in high school a few months ago will be contributing on this year’s football team.
So here’s a look, position by position, at where Auburn football stands right now, mostly from a personnel standpoint. You can find a quick look at the depth chart, as well as some names to remember for the future.
This is a bit long, so feel free to jump around as you choose. The emphasis of the article is where Auburn is for the 2010 season, so towards the end, I’ll predict wins and losses for the 2010 season.
Starting from the top:
The quarterback position is looking much stronger now that Gus Malzahn is on the Plains. Cam Newton came in the spring, fresh off a national title at Blinn Junior College. The former Florida Gator has all the physical tools to play the position, but lacks experience against SEC defenses. He’s been named the starter for the 2010 season.
Behind him senior Neil Caudle and sophomore Barrett Trotter are in a race for the backup position.
Caudle has been a dedicated player since arriving as an Elite 11 quarterback, but as former QB Chris Todd said in an interview last week, “The timing was just never right.” Trotter has a great arm and is coming back from knee surgery.
Having both players healthy is a great insurance policy if anything goes wrong with Newton.
Clint Moseley, a former Mr. Alabama football player, is also on the roster. Ryan White, a signee from the 2010 class, is also working at quarterback this fall.
The Tigers secured a verbal commitment from Kiehl Frazier, one of the top high school quarterbacks in the country. Assuming Frazier sticks to his commitment, quarterback is looking solid for years to come.
Senior Mario Fannin returns to where he began his Auburn career this year—at running back.
He will be the starter in 2010, and try to pick up where Ben Tate left off. Onterio McCalebb has put on some weight, but his speed will still be used to spread the defense horizontally. True freshman Michael Dyer, the most well-known recruit from 2010, will get carries immediately as well, according to running backs coach Curtis Luper.
Eric Smith will continue to work at H-Back this season. His pass catching ability, blocking, and tough running will probably all be utilized at some point this season. He was especially effective on third down last season.
Keep an eye on Ladarious Phillips, a 290-pound freshman running back who may or may not play this year. But either way, it will be interesting to see where he fits into the Auburn football team in the future.
Trooper Taylor has revolutionized Auburn’s wide receivers.
Last year, it was the team’s biggest question mark. A year later, it should be the deepest position on offense. Darvin Adams is only a junior, and is looking to improve after a breakout sophomore season. Terrell Zachary and Kodi Burns are back for their senior years.
Then there are all the newcomers.
Trovon Reed, Antonio Goodwin, and Shaun Kitchens have all impressed in fall camp. Quindarius Carr, Jay Wisner, and Trevante Stallworth all made contributions last year.
In Malzahn’s offense, rarely are there more than three wide receivers at a time on the field. So this group is excellent, both in quantity and quality.
Sophomore Philip Lutzenkirchen appears poised to take Tommy Trott’s place in the offense. He caught a touchdown last year and gained valuable playing time.
Robert Cooper is also available at tight end as a backup. Freshman Dakota Mosley and others are in the program, but aren’t ready to contribute just yet. T
his is a position of emphasis in the 2011 recruiting season, to build quality depth behind “Lutz.”
This is the most experienced part of the 2010 team. Four seniors anchor the offensive line—Lee Ziemba, Mike Berry, Ryan Pugh, and Byron Isom.
While this year the offensive line should be a strength, the future could be a challenge after losing so many quality players.
The coaching staff has made this a priority, signing Eric Mack, Brandon Mosley, Roszell Gaydon, and Shon Coleman. Gaydon and Mosley and Auburn High School product John Sullen are battling for the starting right tackle position this year. Future recruiting and the ability to develop young talent are the keys to limiting the drop off after losing this senior class.
Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans will try to make up for the loss of Antonio Coleman to the NFL. Nosa Eguae, Dee Ford, and Corey Lemonier should all provide depth at defense end.
On the interior, seniors Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton will get plenty of snaps, while newcomers Kenneth Carter and Jeff Whitaker will get playing time as well. This young group will need to step up to get a decent pass rush on opposing offenses.
Linebacker won’t be nearly as much of an issue this season.
Ironmen Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes return as two of the better linebackers in the SEC. Eltoro Freeman hopes to contribute more this season.
Daren Bates has moved to a hybrid linebacker/safety role. Jonathan Evans and Harris Gaston were forced into action last year and showed their potential.
Depth will be provided by freshmen LaDarius Owens, Jake Holland, Jessel Curry, and Jawara White. These are the linebackers of the future for Auburn.
They will have a season to learn from some pretty experienced and talented players, then will be expected to play major roles in the years to come.
The secondary is had to analyze. Neiko Thorpe and Demond Washington have locked up starting spots at corner, but behind them it’s anyone’s guess.
Much of this position’s success in 2010 depends on the return of three Tigers from serious injury. Zac Etheridge has returned after his scary neck injury, Aairon Savage is back from back-to-back season ending surgeries, and Mike McNeil is coming off a broken leg.
Etheridge and Savage are thought to be the best bets for starting safeties, but it all depends on how they respond to game action.
Veteran Mike Slade and walk-on Ikeem Means provide depth at safety. T’Sharvan Bell, Anthony Morgan, and others will probably work at corner. Daren Bates will make appearances in the secondary as well.
With so many seniors in this group, this is another area where future recruiting will play a major role.
Senior Wes Byrum is back to handle field goal responsibilities. Auburn signed one of the top placekickers in the country, Cody Parkey, in 2010 for the future.
Steven Clark, a freshman, is pushing veteran and senior Ryan Shoemaker for the starting punting job. Walk-ons Morgan Hull and Chandler Brooks are also options at kicker or on kickoffs.
One area that needs to be improved big time is punt returns. The latest reports had Anthony Morgan, Jonathan Mincy (a freshman defensive back), and Quindarius Carr returning punts in the last scrimmage.
Simply securing punts was a chore last year, and whoever ends up with the starting nod needs to fix that problem. Demond Washington was the top kick returner in the SEC last year and will be back again.
The theme throughout each position is the great job Gene Chizik and his staff has done on the recruiting trail.
They salvaged a good class in early 2009 when they arrived, then exploded onto the national scene in their first full year recruiting to Auburn. Obviously, star ratings and high school hype doesn’t mean much in the long run, but these coaches clearly have put an emphasis on going after the nation’s top talent, and have been very successful so far.
This year all but one of Chizik’s signees qualified for school, which is a great sign for Auburn fans. Everything from the summer workouts and fall camp points to how driven this recruiting class is to stick together and do whatever they can for Auburn.
They all seem very well spoken and sound like quality individuals. A few more years of recruiting like that and the sky is the limit for Auburn in the SEC west.
As a lifelong Auburn fan, I think it is important to not only put a winner on the football field, but to do it the right way. Tommy Tuberville did that, and it seems like Gene Chizik picked that up while he was under Tuberville from 2002-2004 as Auburn’s defensive coordinator.
On the recruiting trail, they are selling the “Auburn Family” and the positive attributes of “Auburn men.” Team chaplain Chette Williams was held over from the previous staff, and has been a rock for the program for years now. In the last decade, Auburn football players have had very few run-ins with the law, and have generally made Auburn fans proud of their work in the classroom.
It’s encouraging to see Coach Chizik continues to emphasize discipline, responsibility, working hard, and doing things the right way.
Bringing back the entire coaching staff again in 2010 was huge. There is continuity and positive momentum in the program. All of the coaches seem to not only be good at their job, but good men who care about the players and Auburn as well.
As Coach Chizik says, “This place was made great way before any of us got here. All we’re trying to do is keep it great.” He’s been successful in bringing the Auburn community together and has included former players in his process.
The 2010 Auburn Tigers have a lot going for them: Stability among the coaching staff, an infusion of new talent, and an experienced group of seniors. However, the schedule is pretty daunting. With the entire SEC West expecting to win big this year, something has to give.
Auburn travels to Starkville to play Mississippi State on a Thursday night on national television. That is a huge trap game. Then visits from Clemson and South Carolina will be far from easy.
Ole Miss now has Jeremiah Masoli and LSU is always talented and tough to beat. Georgia will contend for the SEC East and Alabama is the defending national champion.
Honestly, I can’t guarantee more than three wins, but that’s how it usually is in the SEC. Realistically, I could see this team going anywhere between 7-5 and 10-2. So I think I’m going to predict 9-3, with one loss in September to either Clemson or South Carolina, one loss to either Arkansas or Georgia, and one loss to Alabama.
As a fan, I would love for Auburn to be able to arrive in Tuscaloosa with a chance to go to Atlanta with an Iron Bowl victory. We’ll see what happens.