Thin AU football squad begins to rebuild

Gus Malzahn and Ted Roof will have their jobs cut out for them.

Gus Malzahn has to find his sixth different starting quarterback in six years coaching collegiate football, and his third in three years at Auburn.

Ted Roof is looking at only three returning starters on his defense, one of whom won’t be playing the position at which he started the past two seasons.

Gene Chizik presides over a team that is missing 34 scholarship players from its run to the national championship, one that sported only 52 scholarship players at the start of spring practice Wednesday.

Well, 53 if you count offensive lineman Shon Coleman. But he’s not expected to play this year.

“First day,” Malzahn said Wednesday. “A lot of new faces out there. ”

Even Chizik wasn’t there to take in the first 25 minutes of Auburn’s practice at the Hutsell-Rosen Track/Soccer Facility, the Tigers’ temporary home while their new indoor practice facility is being completed.

Chizik, who was “under the weather,” arrived in his pickup truck toward the end of the team’s stretching and left without speaking to the media after practice.

Auburn began the rebuilding process with the first of 15 spring sessions Tuesday, fitting some of those “new faces” into the rotation and finding some new places for some of the holdovers.

Senior Neiko Thorpe, for instance, is making the switch to safety after starting 27 games at cornerback.

Thorpe’s move was scheduled before starting safety Mike McNeil was dismissed from the team March 11, and the position just got thinner with McNeil’s departure.

“ We thought that would be best for our football team and best for Neiko,” Roof said. “I think it’s a win-win for both. I think Neiko’s best position is safety. I think he’s a much better safety than he is a corner. And I think he’s very comfortable back there. Is growing to be comfortable. And I think we’re going to see an increased level of production back there.”

Thorpe, defensive ends Nosa Eguae. Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford, linebackers Daren Bates, Eltoro Freeman and Jonathan Evans and cornerback T’Sharvan Bell are the only players on Roof’s defense who started a game last year.

And Lemonier, Evans and Ford each started only one.

“We’ve got some talented guys. It’s in them,” Roof said. “They’re just very inexperienced. We can’t expect to go from Point A to Point Z. There are a lot of steps in between and we’ve just got to focus every day on taking a step. And if we do that, I’m confident that we’ll get to where we need to be.”

Malzahn, at least, has two known quantities to choose from in his search for a new quarterback.

Junior Barrett Trotter is in his third spring under the Tigers’ offensive coordinator, and sophomore Clint Moseley is gearing up for his third season at Auburn.

How either reacts in the pressure cooker of a game is still a bit of a mystery, as each has only been called into mop-up duty during their careers.

“ Last few years, it takes game three or four before we really have a good understanding of the quarterback and how he’s going to react in different situations,” Malzahn said. “The good thing with Clint and Barrett, they’ve been in the system, both of them. They have a good understanding of the offense, even though they have not been on the field in game type situations much.”

Offensive tackles Brandon Mosley and A.J. Greene, receivers Emory Blake and Quindarius Carr, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and running backs Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb are the only returning offensive players who started last year, and Carr had only one.

Lutzenkirchen, a junior, is actually one of the Tigers’ most experienced offensive players.

“ It’s weird that I’m an older guy because I’m a 19-year-old still,” Lutzenkirchen said. “It’s kind of hard to get past that. It’s not that there’s new guys on the team. It’s that there’s guys who have been here for only a year. They’re getting an opportunity to make plays and show the coaches what they can do, and they need to take full advantage of that. ”

The proving period started Wednesday and continues through April 18, the Tigers’ final spring practice after their A-Day game two days earlier.

Time for some of the “new faces” to start making their way to veteran status.

“We need a lot of the young guys to step up this year,” Lutzenkirchen said. “They’re going to do all right, though. We trust them. ”

dmorrison@oanow.com | 737-2568

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