Heading into the 2010 season, there were a lot of returning players and few position battles. The biggest question was who would quarterback the 2010 Auburn Tigers—Cam Newton, Barrett Trotter or Neil Caudle?
Looking back, it seems like a silly question. Most fans were expecting a 10-2 season at best and maybe an 8-4 season as they had questions about the quarterback play and the defense.
After winning the BCS National Championship, where is the focus this spring? It cannot be summed up in just a few key position battles as the Tigers must replace 33 players from last year's championship squad with most positions up for grabs this spring. With a rugged schedule most fans are expecting an 8-4 type year from the 2011 Tigers.
After winning the championship, it is easy to forget the number of questions surrounded the team headed into spring.
While most everyone is projecting a big drop-off for the 2011 Tigers, don't forget that Coach Chizik has put together back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes and there is a lot of young talent on this team.
Let's take a look at how the expectations heading into this spring compare to just one year ago.
It is hard to believe, but last year the quarterback position was not settled headed into spring. Cam Newton, Neil Caudle, Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley were all in contention.
Even after the spring game, the coaches were unable to name a starter as Cam Newton and Barrett Trotter were running neck and neck. Shortly after the spring game, the coaching staff named Cam Newton the starter but there were still questions about his passing accuracy.
It is expected that Barrett Trotter will win the starting job, but Clint Moseley will have something to say about that.
The quarterback of the future, Kiehl Frazier, will join the mix next fall. While the job is most likely Trotter's to lose this year, there is more concern as there is not as much depth and now that they saw Newton last year, Auburn fans are concerned about who will be the quarterback next year and will be watching Trotter and Moseley closely this spring.
One of the biggest recruiting coups by Gene Chizik was to retain offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn who has shown the ability to develop and get the most out of his quarterbacks.
Heading into spring, Mario Fannin was the featured back and there was legitimate concern about his propensity to fumble. There was also concern about the durability of Onterio McCalebb. Michael Dyer was the ESPN top rated back and would join the team in the fall. Eric Smith was a good blocker and receiver at H-back and Dontae Aycock was expected to show that he could run inside. Kodi Burns was going to run the wildcat.
Michael Dyer eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a freshmen and is clearly the top running back this spring. McCalebb answered questions about his durability and will add speed. Tre Mason will join the team in the fall. The big question this spring is depth and H-back. Can Anthony Gulley add depth? Will Ladarious Philips take over as the big blocking back? Will Trovon Reed be the answer at the wildcat?
Darvin Adams was looking to have a big year along with Terrell Zachery. Philip Lutzenkirchen and Eric Smith were solid at the H-back taking over for Tommy Trott. Emory Blake, Quindarious Carr, Jay Wisner, Travante Stallworth, Philip Pierre-Louis and Derek Winter added depth.
Shaun Kitchens and Antonio Goodwin were going to join the team in the fall. How would they get playing time for all these receivers? The big question was whether or not DeAngelo Benton would live up to his hype.
With the unexpected early departure of Darvin Adams and the dismissal of Kitchens and Goodwin, there is now concern about the depth at wide receiver. Emory Blake is expected to take over for Adams as the go to guy, Trovon Reed will get a shot to take over for Zachery as the second receiver and run the end-arounds and will be one of the most highly watched players this spring.
Quindarious Carr will have to step up and Lutzenkirchen is solid. Sammy Coates and Jaylon Denson will get a chance to play in the fall. All eyes will be on DeAngelo Benton this spring to see if he can live up to the hype. Often overlooked, last year's receivers were zealous blockers downfield. Will this group be just as good?
The offensive line was considered the strength of the team last spring. Ziemba, Pugh, Isom and Berry had plenty of starts over the past three years. The only question was whether Gayden, Greene, Sullen or Mosely would win the right tackle job. Eddins and Cooper added depth. It turned out to be true and may have turned out to be the best offensive line in Auburn history.
Brandon Mosely, who was not the favorite to win the starting tackle job last year returns as the only starter this spring. If A.J. Greene can return completely from his leg injury, it would be huge. Sullen should get a start at either guard or tackle. Look for Jared Cooper, Ed Christian, Eric Mack and Chad Slade to battle it out for the other starting position.
Reese Dismukes has enrolled early and will battle Blake Burgess, Tunde Fariyike and Cooper for the center position. Auburn signed a top offensive lineman class and Christian Westerman or Greg Robinson may end up starting next fall. While there are plenty of questions, there is a lot of potential talent and depth this year.
Just like quarterback, after watching Nick Fairley play last year it is hard to believe that the play of the defensive line was a question mark last year. There was concern on whether or not Auburn could stop the run. Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans returned for their senior years at defensive end and Fairley, Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton would battle it out in the middle.
Dee Ford, Nosa Eguae, Jamar Travis and Derrick Lykes added depth. Craig Sanders enrolled early and though undersized would be watched in the spring. Tiger fans anxiously awaited the arrival of top recruits Corey Lemonier and Jeffrey Whitaker in the fall.
Nosa Eguae ended up beating out Goggans and had a very good redshirt freshman season. Although prized recruit Corey Lemonier seemed to get more attention as a back up, Eguae returns as a starter at one end spot. Jeffrey Whitaker found himself playing in key situations and held his own as a true freshman.
The battle this spring will be for the other inside spot as Kenneth Carter, Lykes and Travis will go at it to see who will start alongside Whitaker. Don't be surprised if it eventually turns out to be Gabe Wright when he arrives in the fall. Dee Ford, Craig Sanders, Justin Delaine and Joel Bonomolo add quality depth at the end spot and are fearsome pass rushers.
Heading into the spring, depth at linebacker was a major concern. Ironmen Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens returned for their final seasons. Eltoro Freeman was inconsistent and Daren Bates was moved from safety to add depth and shore up pass coverage from the linebacker spot.
Jonathan Evans played well in his emergency start in the Iron Bowl and Jessel Curry enrolled early but ended up in the doghouse. Auburn fans were excited about the recruits that would be there in the fall—LaDarius Owens, Jawara White and Jake Holland.
Freeman greatly improved last year and will be solid on the outside. Bates seemed to take a step back and struggled at times last year at the new position but look for better things in his second year at linebacker.
Jake Holland was brought along slowly and will be watched closely this spring to see if he is the answer at the middle. Evans, Owens, White and Curry will all be looking to crack the starting lineup and provide depth.
The secondary was also a huge question mark heading into the spring. There was plenty of experienced talent, but health was a major question. Would Aaron Savage, Mike McNeil and Zac Etheridge be healthy enough to be effective at safety?
Could Desmond Washington take over for Walter McFadden at the other corner opposite returning starter Neiko Thorpe? Recruits Chris Davis, Demetruce McNeal and Jonathan Mincy would be welcomed additions in the fall.
McNeil has been dismissed from the team and there is talk of moving Thorpe to safety because of his experience and football IQ, and he may be better suited for that position as he sometimes did not have the speed to cover quick receivers.
T'Sharvan Bell was playing lights out at the end of the year and should take over at one corner. Johnathan Rose enrolled early and has the talent to start as a true freshman at the other corner but will have to battle Davis and Mincy. Demetruce McNeal was a star on special teams and will get a look at safety.
Recruits Jermaine Whitehead, Erique Florence, Robenson Therezie and Anthony Swain will come in the fall and all will have a shot at immediate playing time.
Wes Byrum was returning for his fourth and final year but was the only given going into last spring. Would Ryan Shoemaker return to his freshman form and be an effective punter? Who would return punts as it was an adventure the year before? What about kickoff coverage?
The lack of depth on kick coverage resulted in poor field position for the Tigers many times the year before. Desmond Washington and Onterio McCallebb looked to be the kick returners.
Cody Parkey got his foot wet last year and was one of the top kickers coming out of high school and will be the odds on favorite to win the placekicking job this spring. Although Auburn rarely had to punt, Steven Clark was given an opportunity to take over the punting job last year but was terribly inconsistent and will be watched this spring to take over the punting duties.
Carr lost his punt return job to Darvin Adams late in the year and will get a look again this year but also look out for Johnathan Rose or another talented freshman to win the job. Often overlooked but hugely critical deep snapper Josh Harris returns and the Tigers will have to find a holder to replace the steady Neil Caudle. McCalebb, Rose, Reed, McNeal and possibly Mason will return kicks.