Tigers in search of a few answers as spring begins

Is Trotter the heir apparent? This and other questions as Spring Football begins.

An undefeated season. An SEC championship. A Heisman Trophy winner. The first national championship in 53 years.

How do you follow that act?

Auburn will get to work answering that question today in the first of 15 spring practice sessions scheduled over the next three and a half weeks, culminating in the annual A-Day game in Jordan-Hare Stadium on April 16.

Here are five more questions facing the Tigers as they open spring practice today.

1. Who’s going to replace No. 2?
Aairon Savage was a veteran voice in the secondary, a senior who provided stability and … oh, the other one?

Cam Newton put up one of the most electrifying seasons in college football history in his one year with Auburn.

The grinning, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback accounted for 4,369 yards from scrimmage and 51 touchdowns last year, making up 95 percent of the Tigers’ passing total, 37 percent of their rushing and, yes, even 1.4 percent of their receiving.

The responsibility for picking up where he left off probably falls to one of two men: Barrett Trotter or Clint Moseley.

Trotter, a 6-foot-2, 211-pound rising junior, completed 6-of-9 passes for 69 yards and rushed for 68 yards and a score in mop-up duty last year.

More importantly, this will be his third spring learning under offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, and he’s probably the furthest along of anyone on the Tigers’ roster in mastering his schemes.

Moseley, at 6-3, 223, will be a redshirt sophomore whose college career consists of one rush for 8 yards, but he’s also in his third year under Malzahn.

Trotter has the leg up in terms of experience, but Moseley also has the size and athleticism to make this a race.

In other words, it’s anyone’s game.

And freshman Kiehl Frazier, the heir apparent to Newton from Malzahn’s old stomping grounds in Arkansas?

He doesn’t get here until the summer. We’ll talk about him then.

2. Who’s going to replace No. 90?
Nick Fairley went from a prodigious, but inconsistent, talent to an unblockable beast in the span of a year, winning a Lombardi Award and giving opposing quarterbacks nightmares before declaring early for the NFL Draft.

He, like, Newton, leaves a huge void. Not only that, but his capable sidekicks from last year – seniors Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc – are gone as well.

Jeffrey Whitaker (6-3, 308) and Kenneth Carter (6-5, 281) got their chances to impress in meaningful situations last year and acquitted themselves well.

Beyond that, it’s kind of a crap shoot.

The Tigers used Jamar Travis and Derrick Lykes very sparingly last year, and, while it’ll probably take herculean springs from them to crack the starting rotation, they can provide depth.

Coaches are high on freshman Gabe Wright out of Columbus, Ga., but he — like Frazier — won’t get to showcase his stuff until the summer.

The tackle situation, not to mention the graduations of end Michael Goggans and Antoine Carter, should make for an interesting spring for new defensive line coach Mike Pelton.

3. Who’s going to catch some passes?
Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery and Kodi Burns combined for 1,745 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last year, with Adams leading the Tigers in receiving in each of his final two collegiate seasons. They’re all gone.

The good news for Auburn: It has a game-changing wide receiver already on the roster.

Emory Blake, a 6-1, 192-pound rising junior, led the Tigers in touchdown catches last year with eight and was their third-leading receiver in terms of yards behind Adams and Zachery.

Blake’s mixture of speed, hands and route running made him lethal down the seams last year, and he has the stuff to be a possession receiver with big-play capability.

Also keep an eye out for Philip Lutzenkirchen.

The rising junior was a receiving tight end in high school before the Tigers asked him to be more of a blocker, which he also excelled at.

Now, with fewer receiving options, Malzahn could open up the playbook a little more for his tight end.

And Lutzenkirchen’s got the skill set to be dangerous.

4. Who will Auburn miss the most out of its five off-season dismissals?
Mike McNeil started seven games at safety after Savage’s season-ending injury last year and was expected to be the bedrock of the secondary this season.

With McNeil gone, dismissed after being arrested and charged in connection with an armed robbery, the Tigers’ starting safeties appear to be Neiko Thorpe, who is reportedly moving from cornerback, and Demetruce McNeal,  who only saw limited action last year.

If that bears out, Auburn’s starting safeties will have a combined zero career starts at the position by the time the season kicks off.

The Tigers have freshman help coming, but the personnel on hand in the spring will have to make huge strides.

5. Who will have the best spring?
With four starters graduating from the offensive line, the Tigers’ young blockers will have every chance to impress coach Jeff Grimes this spring.

Chad Slade, a 6-5, 316-pound redshirt freshman, is in position to break through.

Slade wasn’t the most highly touted of the Tigers’ line class of 2010, but he drew rave reviews from coaches when he got to campus.

With both guard spots vacated, a solid spring could secure him a place in the starting rotation.

Also keep an eye out for freshman Jonathan Rose, an early enrollee from Leeds who, at 6-1, 175, will probably get a look at cornerback, safety, and as many return teams as Auburn can find for him.

Rising junior Ikeem Means also had a stellar spring last year, and a repeat could put him squarely in position to challenge for one of the safety spots.

DAVID MORRISON is the Auburn University reporter for the Opelika-Auburn News. He may be reached at 737-2568.

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