Auburn's A-Day 2011: 9 Tigers You Need To Watch
"Ball on the two-yard line. Neil Caudle will hold, Wes Byrum will kick. Auburn 19, Oregon 19. The snap is good, the hold is good, the kick is good! Auburn has won the Tostitos BCS National Championship! 22-19! Their first national title in 53 years! War Eagle!"
I think that says it all. Two years after a 5-7 season that led to head coach Tommy Tuberville's resignation and to Gene Chizik's confusing hiring, the Tigers went 14-0 and won the BCS title, bringing in the Heisman and Lombardi Trophies.
However, unlike in year's past, the reigning champions won't exactly be high in the polls to start 2011. Auburn loses 23 seniors, five players booted thanks to arrests, four players for personal reasons and three players (QB Cam Newton, DT Nick Fairley and WR Darvin Adams) early to the NFL Draft.
This year's Auburn team will feature a lot of new faces, as the Tigers return just eight starters from last season (four on offense and defense each).
However, despite the fact that expectations are low for Auburn from media and fans alike, don't tell Auburn head coach Gene Chizik that. The goal remains the same, and this year's Tiger team will be trying to win Auburn's second consecutive national championship.
Unfortunately for fans, though, it's only April. The good news, as is always the case this time of year, is that A-Day is nearly here. Last year, over 63,000 passionate fans filled Jordan-Hare Stadium to watch this practice game, and this year's game is this Saturday, April 16.
When you watch A-Day this Saturday, here are nine players you should keep your eye on.
Onterio McCalebb, Running Back
Much attention recently from national media has gone to Mike Dyer, the Auburn RB who finished his freshman season with 143 yards in the BCS National Championship Game, including 54 yards in the two biggest carries of his life during the game-winning drive.
Many expect Dyer to be the work-horse for Auburn in 2011. He's the biggest offensive weapon Auburn has. But what these people forget is that Gus Malzahn's system is one that doesn't rely on just one back.
Onterio McCalebb, his back-up, is one of the most explosive players on the team, as he averaged 8.5 yards per carry in 2010, scored the game-winning touchdown against LSU and scored thrice in the Tigers' 49-31 win over Georgia. Heck, compared to Dyer in 2010, he scored 10 TDs compared to Dyer's five. McCalebb's speed allows him to easily get to the edge.
While the power edge goed to Dyer, the fastest running back and maybe overall player on this Auburn roster is Onterio McCalebb.
Trovon Reed, Wide Receiver
Trovon Reed came to Auburn as an explosive offensive threat, but he was injured before the 2010 season, tried to play against Clemson, re-aggravated his injury and was redshirted.
While that is a pretty rocky freshman year, he is healthy now and looking to claim a spot on Auburn's starting line-up.
Demetruce McNeal, Cornerback
McNeal was one of Auburn's best players in 2010.
He not only played great on kick-off coverage, but he also made a game-saving tackle in the BCS Title Game against Oregon in the third quarter, after the receiver juggled the ball, caught it and was on his way to the end zone. McNeal made a great tackle, tripping him up at the three-yard line. Auburn would then perform a goal-line stand, keeping the score 19-11 in favor of the Tigers.
McNeal was an unsung hero in 2010 and he may break out in 2011, as he will not only be great in kick-off coverage, but should make more plays defensively as well.
Ladarious Phillips, Fullback
Phillips was not a highly-touted recruit at all, but he signed with Auburn and immediately wowed coaches.
He's not only huge, but he's also very fast. He's been rumored to have run a 40-yard-dash as fast as 4.0 seconds.
Unfortunately for the running back, he was injured before the 2010 season and never played. He's healthy now, but for a while it looked like he would never tote the rock.
The coaches had considering switching him to a defensive lineman, but seeing as running backs coach Curtis Luper has been the most vocal this Spring concerning Phillips, it's safe to assume he will be a tailback.
Imagine that the only thing between him and the end zone is you. Now go change your pants and click on the next slide to read on.
Jonathan Rose, Cornerback
Auburn's secondary wasn't particularly strong last year.
While the front seven was easily one of the best in college football, the secondary gave up a majority of the points and yards last year by opposing offenses.
The best players from this secondary (Demond Washington, Zac Ethridge and Mike McNeil, thanks to an armed robbery) are gone, so the coaches were determined to grab a high school stud to help fill the void.
They did just that, grabbing the best corner in the state of Alabama in Jonathan Rose. Nobody would be surprised if Rose is a starter when Utah State rolls into town in September.
Neiko Thorpe, Safety
Neiko Thorpe's time at Auburn, while glorious, has been pretty rough.
While he is a national championship player and has had his share of moments, he has always been considered the secondary's weak link, constantly letting receivers beat him for scores and/or long gains.
However, Thorpe may be in position for his best year in 2011. Why? Because this spring, coaches moved him from cornerback to safety, where he will play more zone coverage than man coverage.
A-Day won't be exactly a judge of how much he's improved, but it will be worth looking out for to see how comfortable he looks back there.
Nosa Eguae, Defensive End
Nosa Eguae is the only returning starter from a defensive line that helped hold Oregon, who had been averaging over 300 rushing yards per game, to 75 rushing yards in the BCS National Championship Game.
Eguae's career began roughly, as he fell down a flight of stairs the night before the season opener in 2009 and was immediately redshirted.
In 2010, he recovered and worked his way into the starting lineup, so this year he will be depended upon to get to the quarterback.
Daren Bates, Linebacker
Daren Bates came to Auburn as a safety in 2009 and immediately started, but following the season, Chizik and defensive coordinator Ted Roof agreed that Bates's strength and speed could be better utilized at the linebacker position in 2010.
Bates, who grabbed an interception in the SEC Championship Game when the South Carolina Gamecocks were in Tiger territory (This was in the first half, when the game was close), thrived as a linebacker and looks to be even better in 2011.
While the linebacker corp loses seniors Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens, with returning stars like Bates and Eltoro "The Bull" Freeman, linebacker could be a strength for Auburn this season.
Clint Moseley, Quarterback
The race to replace Cam Newton is on.
The legendary QB compiled 51 touchdowns in 2010, breaking the Auburn records for passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns in a season in the process. Of course, he made the decision to leave Auburn early and will likely be drafted No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.
So who will replace him?
Auburn fans assumed that would be Barrett Trotter, Cam's back-up last year who impressed in garbage time. However, Gene Chizik has stated many times this spring that neither QB has taken the lead in the race and are neck-and-neck.
If Moseley has been as impressive as coaches and players say and if he has as good of a chance to start at this point as Barrett Trotter, fans should keep an eye on this man at A-Day to see what the coaches see.
A-Day Schedule and Information
A post-game autograph session will be held after A-Day. Fans will be limited to one item per person. If you can't attend A-Day Saturday, you'll have to watch online or tune in to CSS to see the game. However, if you are going, here is a schedule of events (via the Auburn Tigers official website):
Auburn's annual spring football game, A-Day, will be held Saturday, April 16 at 2 p.m. CT at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Tickets are $5 for the general public and free for AU students with an Auburn Ignited card. Fans are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line on April 16.
Tickets can be purchased at the Auburn Ticket Office located at Auburn Arena from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., online at www.AubTix.com, or at various locations in the Auburn-Opelika area.
Tickets are also available at: Auburn Team Shop at Auburn Arena, Anders Bookstore, Big Blue Bookstore, J&M Bookstore (both locations), Tiger Rags and the Auburn University Bookstore. Three Regions Bank locations in Auburn and Opelika also have A-Day tickets available for sale. Tickets at those locations will be available through the end of the business day on April 15.
On A-Day, tickets will be available at the Jordan-Hare Stadium ticket windows. Game day sales will be cash/check only.
The Tiger Fan Fest, featuring inflatable games, sponsor sampling, face painting, and appearances by the Auburn cheerleaders, Tiger Paws, marching band and Aubie will be located on the AU intramural fields from 10 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. The intramural fields are located across from Jane B. Moore softball field on Biggio Drive between Samford Ave. and Lem Morrison Drive.
A Punt, Pass and Kick Contest for kids in grades 3-6 will be also be held on the intramural fields. Registration begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 12:30 p.m. Winners for each grade and division (boys/girls) will receive an Auburn prize pack and also be recognized on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium during halftime of the A-Day game. Participants are encouraged to bring a completed registration form to bypass the registration booth at the event.
The Auburn Arena will be open on A-Day from 8 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., as the BCS National Championship Trophy will be on display in the Lovelace Hall of Honor. Fans are welcome to take photos with the trophy, but must bring their own camera. Entrance into the arena will be at the main entrance on the north side of the facility. Concessions and AU Team Shop will be open in the arena on A-Day.
Public parking will be available at the hayfields on South Donahue. Tiger Transit will run from 9 a.m. until 2 hours post-game from the Hay Fields and Tiger Town to Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. Paid parking is available in the North Parking garage located on West Magnolia for $10 per car.
Auburn's softball, men's tennis, women's golf and track and field teams will all be in action on A-Day. The softball team will host Florida at 4 p.m. at Jane B Moore Field. The men's tennis team will host Alabama at 5 p.m. at the Yarborough Tennis Center. The women's golf team plays host to the SEC Championship in the second of three days at the Auburn University Club. The track and field team will host the War Eagle Invitational beginning Friday at 4:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 11 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. at the Hutsell-Rosen Track. Admission is free for all events.
The annual Tiger Trail induction ceremony will take place at 8:30 a.m. on April 16 in the ballroom of the new Student Center, east of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Each inductee is honored with an engraved granite plaque to be placed in the sidewalk of downtown Auburn among the plaques of other Auburn greats. This year's class includes Herbert (Hub) Waldrop, John Powell, Larry Nichols, Sarah Wentworth, Terry Henley and Jackie Bushman.
The cost to attend Tiger Trail is $35 per guest and will include breakfast. It is open to the public. Call (334) 887-7011 or go by the chamber to purchase a ticket (714 E. Glenn Avenue).
Enjoy A-Day, and War Eagle!