War Eagle, everybody! As spring storms rumble through, dreaded Bradford pear trees fill the air with their cloying fumes, and hordes of bugs appear, it's time to start thinking about spring football! With the departure of Gus Malzhan and the arrival of Scot Loeffler, it's a sure thing that Auburn will look very different on offense next season.
As Auburn is expected to change to a "pro-style" offense this year, it was interesting this past morning revisiting the old west coast "drive" concept with coach Steve Mariucci chatting with Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. I expect we'll see our Tigers running similar two back, read schemes this fall. Also impressive in this video is how well RG-III absorbed that play. Here's hoping the Auburn quarterbacks can absorb things this quickly!
Auburn's quarterback rotation may look quite different than last year's did down the stretch. While junior Clint Mosley and sophomore Khiel Frazier have played, the Tigers have added three more quarterbacks to the mix, two of them late additions after Loeffler's hire. Incoming freshman Zeke is already in school this semester, and is expected to participate in spring drills. At the last minute, Auburn added Central Phoenix City quarterback Jonathan Wallace to the class. Walk-on redshirt freshman Wirth Campbell makes a 5th quarterback on the roster.
This offense has a few proven players such as Emory Blake, Onterrio McCalebb and Phillip Lutzenkirchen, but there are far more questions than answers at this point. Junior transfer fullback Jay Prosch should make an immediate impact. The most important building job has to be on the offensive line.
The Tigers already have 13 offensive linemen expected to participate in spring drills. In addition, the Tigers signed the number two offensive line class in the nation this past month, and two of those guys are already on campus and may take part in spring drills. 5 more guys will arrive this summer. After the Tigers lost both starting tackles to graduation, it's really difficult to figure what the line will look like in the season opener. One would have to pencil true sophomore center Reese Dismukes in as a starter. He started every game in 2011 as a true freshman, and did not come out for any meaningful snaps. He may well be a superstar this season on the line.
Senior John Sullen has played a lot of football over the past few years, and could start at either right guard or tackle. Sophomores Chad Slade and Eric Mack were thrown into the fire last season, and should be a factor. Slade is Auburn's only player that has played any left tackle against FBS competition. Some folks would like to crown redshirt freshmen scout-team stalwarts Greg Robinson and Christian Westerman as instant starters this spring. Last year's left tackle starter A. J. Greene admitted that he thought Robinson was capable of starting at that spot late in the season. The line will likely favor the more experienced players when it's all said and done, but I'd expect at least one surprise starter. With this many players, coach Grimes will push them, and will have the option of sitting down any guy he feels isn't giving great effort.
The Tigers have a good bit of experience, and a wealth of talented players returning at the wide receiver spots. Talented, yes. But only senior Emory Blake has been able to be a consistent threat. When Blake was injured last season, receiver production plummeted. Seniors DeAngelo Benton and Travante Stallworth have been on the field quite a bit. Quick screen sophomore specialists Quan Bray and Trovon Reed played last season, also. Tiger secret weapons at wide receiver could include rangy sophomore Jaylon Denson, or the speedy redshirt freshman Sammie Coates. During fall camp last year, folks were complaining that it was impossible to cover Coates before he was injured.
For a pro offense to work, the running game must go. In addition to solid line play, lead blockers at the tight end and fullback positions are essential. One of the great problems of last year's offense was that one could either play Phillip Lutzenkircken at H-Back, or tight end. However, we didn't really have another guy to block effectively. The transfer of former All Big Ten fullback Jay Prosch should allow senior Phillip Lutzenkirchen to return to being a true tight end. Lots of folks see Lutz as a smaller "hands guy," and not a blocker. Those who really watched the action away from the ball last season saw a guy who was pretty bruising down the stretch. Lutz is listed at 264 pounds, which is fairly typical of an SEC tight end. He should have a great senior season.
Having established that Auburn will start with a good pair of lead blockers, who will back them up? That's the real question. It's a physical position that needs multiple players over the course of a typical year. Candidates to fill in include sophomore Brandon Fulse at tight end, and sophomore Ladarius Phillips at fullback. Sophomore C. J. Uzomah may play some tight end, also.
After the transfer to Arkansas State of star tailback Michael Dyer, the Tigers are thin on starting experience, but there is talent both on the roster, and incoming next August. Senior Onterrio McCalebb has been a scoring threat for the past three seasons, and sophomore Tre Mason has shown explosiveness on limited carries. Transfers Corey Grant and Mike Blakely will be eligible for spring ball. Grant was named the hardest worker on the scout team this past fall. Don't count incoming signee Jovon Robinson out. His 220 pound frame might be valuable on short yardage plays.
In 2012, Auburn should be stronger up front, but will have questionable depth at the lead blocker positions. Finding and tutoring a quarterback is essential if the Tigers are to have offensive success in 2012. The progress over the next few months will be interesting to watch!