With the Jordan-Hare Stadium game clock now under three weeks, things are starting to come into focus for this 2010 Auburn football team. While security is like Fort Knox during scrimmages, news is beginning to leak out about the direction Gene Chizik's second team is taking.
What's the biggest change from a year ago? Clearly, it's the amount of playing time this year's heralded freshmen class is getting in early scrimmages. We all know recruiting is a crap shoot at best. It's good to see that at least early on, these young guys are living up to the stars next to their names.
KoolBell777 wrote an excellent story on the class last Friday and I thought I'd chime in today. Over the weekend, they got much of the praise from Chizik following Saturday's scrimmage.
No one has gotten more kudos in camp than heralded wide receiver Trovon Reed. The passion and drive of this kid from Louisiana is earning respect from both coaches and players. After battling nagging injuries all week, he showed up during Saturday's scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium, scoring on both a long run and pass play.
"I felt like today was the day I really had to try to make a name for myself," Reed said, "not being selfish, but making the coaches believe I could play. They'd never really seen I could play. They'd seen film and all that. They never saw me for themselves at their university and me playing for them. I tried to make a point to them, but I also tried to play my role."
Reed wasn't the only rookie of Trooper Taylor's making an impact Saturday. Antonio Goodwin, who caught two touchdown passes during Wednesday's scrimmage, snagged another deep ball Saturday. Freshman Shawn Kitchens has also been singled out by coaches.
It will be interesting to see how things shake out at wide receiver with last year's preseason stars, Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton trying to show they can add value after a disappointing 2009. Add in Phillip Pierre-Louis and Quindarius Carr to go along with starters Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery, and suddenly Auburn looks to have one of the deepest receiving corps in the SEC.
Dyer Lives Up To The Hype
There's no mistaking the starting tailback for the Tigers. Coaches and practice observers have heaped praise on senior Mario Fannin. At this point, there's no one close to him. But the top-rated high school running back of 2009,Michael Dyer has impressed coaches already with his work ethic. It's easy for young stars to come in acting like prima donnas, but Dyer has remained humble, even openly discussing his struggles.
"In high school, I knew I was the best," Dyer said. "In college, everyone is good, everyone is fast, everyone is quick. I guess it's the reality of if you are willing to go the extra mile to be great.
"I know there are players better than I am, bigger and stronger than I am. All of them can do the things I can do. It's the little things that separate the good, the great and the best."
That mind-set, perhaps far more than physical talent, is why players like Dyer have success at all levels. Look for him to get more and more involved with Gus Malzahn's offense as the season progresses.
Lemonier Hopes to Build On Hype
One of the most enduring images of Auburn's 2010 recruiting class was the picture of Chizik and Taylor celebrating the signing of Hialeah, Florida defensive end Corey Lemonier. Widely believed to be heading to Florida State, the seventh-ranked player at his position shocked many by signing with Auburn.
He's disappointed no one since arriving on campus. During the past week, he's been called out by both Chizik and position coach Tracy Rocker. Not known to handout compliments freely, Rocker suggested last week that Lemonier would, "push someone for a position."
Another freshman who's been on campus since spring, Craig Sanders is also expected to see action at defensive end. "I don't see anybody around here not playing," Rocker said. "I think everyone is going to have a role to do something on this team. We're going to need everybody."
Newcomers Expected to Contribute In Defensive Secondary
If there's one area coaches are most concerned about it's the defensive secondary. No unit has more potential while at the same time running a bigger risk of trouble. Safety Mike McNeil and cornerback Aairon Savage return after missing last season due to injury. Both have All-SEC potential, but questions remain. How quickly can they return to their old form? Will their speed be affected? And most importantly, can they stay healthy?
Combine their health problems with those of senior Zach Etheridge, who's yet to go live in a scrimmage and you can see why defensive coordinator Ted Roof will be rushed to get his freshmen ready. Enter Demetruce McNealand Ryan Smith.
McNeal was ranked the 31st safety in America by Scout last season. The College Park, Georgia native recorded 104 tackles his senior year. Smith is making the adjustment from running back where he rushed for 1,856 yards and 26 touchdowns last season in Cordova, Alabama. So far, his move to safety has been met with enthusiasm.
Throw in the loss of reserve defensive back D'Antoine Hood due to transfer and you can see why the defensive secondary is a huge concern. The contributions of these freshmen could make the difference in having a good season or a great one.
Heralded Linebackers Looking For Help
Nowhere was Auburn's lack of depth more evident last season than at linebacker. While Roof returns two potential All-SEC players in Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens, what sits behind them keeps Roof up at night. He's has made it clear that he intends to play three linebackers all game long, meaning depth is of major importance.
Junior Eltoro Freeman will try to live up to the hype and provide some added support for Bynes and Stevens. Daren Bates is also in the mix after moving over from safety. How long he stays at linebacker will have a lot to do with how the depth at safety holds up.
The success of the linebacker group could rest with freshmen Jessel Curry and Jake Holland. It's important they step up and get some reps while the others rest.
So far, so good.
Chizik and Roof have repeatedly mentioned both freshmen following practices and scrimmages this month and say they are encouraged by their play. "It's been good watching these guys step up," Chizik said.
Much Is Riding On This Class
There are a couple of ways to look at Auburn's dilemma this season. As a fan, you would certainly like to see more freshmen collecting red-shirts. Then again, having the opportunity to play immediately is what got most of these blue chips on campus. As talented as they are, there will be mistakes.
Fortunately, Auburn has enough starting talent at most positions; so they can phase these younger guys in throughout the month of September - baring injuries. With enough back-up reps early on, these young guys will hopefully be more than freshmen once the leaves start to turn.
I don't know about you, but I haven't felt this good about the future of Auburn football since the early days of Tommy Tuberville. For those of you keeping track, we are now only 19 days from kickoff.
Are you ready?