A Look at the 2012 Auburn Tigers

New Coaches Scott Loeffler and Brian Van Gorder meant what they said about open positions.

It’s a standard part of “Coachspeak” whenever a new Coach comes on the scene, to announce to the world that no position is safe.  Everyone starts with a clean slate and will have to earn their spot from this point forward.  On Tuesday, Coach Gene Chizik released the depth chart for the start of the 2012 campaign, which kicks off this Saturday in Atlanta against a familiar foe in recent years, the Clemson Tigers.  And it became obvious at first glance that new coordinators, Brian Van Gorder and Scott Loeffler, meant what they said.

Offensively, this version of the Plainsmen looks vastly different than the group that started the 2011 season.  While a few familiar faces remain entrenched at their respective positions, many of the names will be new to the casual Auburn Football fan.  The offensive line had the biggest makeover with the influx of two highly rated recruiting classes at that position.  A coach’s very livelihood hinges on wins and losses, so putting the best player at each position on the field is a given.  And it seems that an open competition at every position resulted in several of those young linemen proving the talent scouts right as no less than six true or redshirt freshmen are in the two-deep rotation.

Auburn fans will see names like Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Christian Westerman, Avery Young and Patrick Miller all in the mix across the line.  But maybe the best storyline of all on the offensive line is that of Shon Coleman, the highly rated tackle who kicked cancer in the teeth to come all the way back and earn the backup slot at left tackle.  A familiar face to Auburn fans will be Kiehl Frazier, who will be getting his first start at quarterback.  The Arkansas native, who beat out Clint Moseley, got quite a few reps last season, but only threw 12 passes and was mainly used as a running threat.  Along with the retooled offensive line, he is one of the biggest question marks going in to the season.  Scott Loeffler has a great reputation for developing quarterbacks and Saturday, we will see the results of his efforts with Frazier.

Auburn suffered in 2011 from the loss of Eric Smith, which caused one of the best tight ends in college football to play out of position most of the season.  The addition of 6’0” 260 true fullback, Jay Prosch, should not only provide needed protection for Frazier in the pocket, but will allow Phillip Lutzenkirchen to move back to his natural position full time.  That move should give Frazier a nice safety net in the passing game.  In the backfield, speedster Onterio McCalebb returns for his senior season.  With Prosch leading the way, there should be some nice running lanes for McCalebb to zip through, along with backups, Tre Mason and former Florida transfer, Mike Blakely.  Emory Blake leads a deep and talented receiving corp, but someone must step up to take some pressure off Blake, one the best players in the SEC.

On defense, there were not near as many changes and most of the players are household names to Auburn fans.  Unfortunately, Auburn is coming off possibly the worst stretch of defense over the last three years in its storied history.  Enter Brian Van Gorder.  Gene Chizik plucked the former Georgia Bulldog and NFL defensive coordinator from the Atlanta Falcons and Van Gorder brings new schemes and a new attitude to this Auburn defense.  He’ll incorporate his attacking style by utilizing a deep and talented pool of defensive ends in Corey Lemonier, Dee Ford, Craig Sanders, Nosa Eguae and Ladarious Owens.  The interior line is suddenly just as deep as any position on the team with players like Jeffrey Whitaker, Angelo Blackson, Gabe Wright, Kenneth Carter and Devaunte Sigler.  All have seen significant playing time in the past so keeping guys fresh at that position shouldn’t be an issue.

Where the Tigers might be suspect will be at linebacker.  There is some experience there with beefed up Jake Holland calling the shots from the middle and leading tackler, Darren Bates returning.  However, after Jonathon Evans, there’s not a lot of guys with playing time.  Much is expected of former 5 star recruit, Kris Frost, who is in the rotation but is looking forward to his first taste of action in the toughest conference in the nation.  Willie Martinez also joined the staff to take over a much maligned defensive back unit.  Experience and talent is not a problem as Chizik and company have had great recruiting hauls at that position.  Chris Davis and Ryan White will man the corners while Jermaine Whitehead and Ryan Smith nailed down the safety spots.  There is experience in all the backups as well with veterans like T’Sharvan Bell and Demetruce McNeal.  The special teams will again be one of the strengths with both Steven Clark and Cody Parkey returning at punter and kicker respectively.

Overall, this team is really a great mystery. This bunch has a good mixture of youth and experience and the talent level is certainly on the rise with the consistent top 10 recruiting classes the staff has signed.  The additions of Loeffler, Van Gorder and Martinez certainly resulted in a significant upgrade in the overall coaching staff and we can only hope that this group of players benefits from their teaching and gels as a unit.  The greatest unknown is how all these highly rated recruits and young guys who have never played in a real Division 1 game will react when the whistle blows in Atlanta this Saturday.  We’ll all hold our breath and hope that this team proves without a doubt, they’re headed back to the upper echelon of college football.  War Eagle

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