Auburn Tigers


Last season, running back Onterio McCalebb showed promise for Auburn.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 7:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 7:29 p.m.
Across the southeast, spring has sprung, bringing SEC football with it. Gatorsports.com provides you with in-depth previews of all 12 teams.

AUBURN TIGERS
2009 record: 8-5, 3-5 SEC
Practice starts: March 14
Spring game: Saturday, April 17, 1 p.m., ESPNU (A-Day)
Recruiting: Auburn went into its A-Day game in 2009 as an unheralded team with a new coach and needs galore. This year, things could not be more different for coach Gene Chizik's Tigers. Auburn had a top 25 recruiting haul in 2009, with Scout.com slotting the class as high as 16th in the nation. Entering 2010, however, Auburn has proved it is a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting front. Rivals.com rated the Tigers' incoming class 4th overall, and ahead of all but one SEC school (Florida). The class is 32 players strong, and includes six offensive linemen and one of the best running backs in the nation in Michael Dyer from Little Rock (Ark.) Christian.
Early enrollees: QB Cameron Newton, DE Craig Sanders, TE Brandon Mosley, OL Roszell Gayden and LB Jessel Curry
Offseason changes: The Tigers lost three starters on offense, including quarterback Chris Todd and running back Ben Tate and offensive tackle Andrew McCain. On defense, Auburn lost three, including cornerback Walt McFadden and defensive end Antonio Coleman. Also, highly touted quarterback Tyrik Rollison, who was a freshman in 2009, transferred to Sam Houston State.

Top priorities for spring
Running back: Dyer's transition is a top priority, but it will have to wait until the summer. The Tigers, who lost 1,300-yard rusher Ben Tate to graduation, will look to develop the quality tailbacks they already have during the spring. Last season, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin had 850 combined rushing yards. Fannin was also the team's second leading receiver with 413 yards while seeing limited action in a handful of games because of concerns over a shoulder injury. The Tigers need both backs to run their offense properly. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn knows the importance of having two backs ready for summer practice. If Fannin and McCalebb perform well in spring, the addition of Dyer during summer will make Auburn a rushing juggernaut in the fall.
Quarterback: Signing junior college transfer Cameron Newton was huge for the Tigers, but he will need the entire spring to learn Malzahn's offense. Newton threw for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns for Blinn Community College in Brenham, Texas last season while adding another 655 on the ground. Newton went the junior college route after being kicked off of Florida's team by coach Urban Meyer in 2008 after an incident involving the theft of a laptop. Now he gets a second chance at becoming a starter in the SEC. With Todd gone and Rollison transferred, the onus is on Newton to grasp the offense and become the Tigers' starter. Kodi Burns, who went into last spring battling for a starting quarterback job, was moved to wide receiver at the beginning of last season. Auburn has only two other quarterbacks on its roster for 2010, and both are unproven. One is Neil Caudle, a fifth-year senior who has only attempted 28 passes in his career. The other is redshirt sophomore Barrett Trotter, who was in line to have some role in Auburn's offense in 2009, but tore his ACL and missed the year. If Newton is not the starter going into summer, that will be the biggest storyline.
Defensive line: Auburn loses two starters on the line — end Antonio Coleman and tackle Jake Ricks — but returns two seniors in Michael Goggans and Mike Blanc. Either way, the Tigers will need to find some play-makers in the trenches to improve a unit that ranked 78th in the country last season in rushing defense. The 156 yards per game given up on the ground ranked ahead of only Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the SEC. Four-star recruit Craig Sanders, a defensive end, is enrolled early and should be able to compete for playing time right away. This is one area where an overhaul in spring could pay big dividends during the summer, when the Tigers get five new defensive linemen on campus. Included in those five are two four-star defensive tackles, Kenneth Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker

Spring strengths
Offensive line: The Tigers return four starters, all seniors who have played in a combined 123 games, and already have four-star junior college recruit Roszell Gayden on campus to compete for the other open spot. Line play will be the key to the Tigers' season, and having five upper classmen fighting for the offensive tackle position left open by departed senior Andrew McCain will be a dream scenario for offensive line coach Jeff Grimes.
Linebackers: The Tigers return their two leading tacklers from last season, Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens, both linebackers. The two combined for nearly 200 tackles last season, and each is entering his senior season. If the Tigers can shore up the defensive line during spring, the pressure could be taken off of the linebackers, allowing them to make even more plays. Spring will also be a proving ground for junior linebacker Eltoro Freeman, who had a lackluster campaign in 2009 with only 31 tackles. If Auburn can get more production out of Freeman, the linebacking corps could have a dominant year. Either way, the Tigers will have two four-star recruits, LaDarius Owens and Jake Holland, competing for playing time at linebacker come summer.

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