The Tigers are starting a new era on The Plains.
Auburn fans can't forget about the 2012 season quick enough. The first 0-8 season in SEC play, as well as widespread off the field chaos, led to the eventual ouster of head coach Gene Chizik, who led the Tigers to a BCS title in the 2010 season. Enter Gus Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator for that undefeated national championship team. He takes over a roster that was recruited well but clearly not coached much at all. Malzahn has his work cut out for him but there are plenty of four- and five-star recruits walking around The Plains right now. Developing this talent in the spring will go a long way to making Auburn competitive once again.
Auburn Tigers 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 3-9 (0-8)
Spring practice dates: March 20-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 9
Passing: Kiehl Frazier, 62 of 116, 753 yards, 2 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Tre Mason, 171 car., 1,002 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: C.J. Uzomah, 7 rec., 136 yards, 1 TDs
Tackles: Demetruce McNeal, 90
Sacks: Dee Ford, 6.0
Interceptions: Trent Fisher, 1
Redshirts to watch: OL Alex Kozan, OL Jordan Diamond, TE Ricky Parks, DB T.J. Davis, DL Tyler Nero
Early Enrollees to watch: QB Nick Marshall, DT Ben Bradley, OL Devonte Danzey, DB Brandon King, LB Kenny Flowers
JUCO Transfers to watch: RB Cameron Artis-Payne, DT Ben Bradley, OL Devonte Danzey, LB Kenny Flowers, DB Brandon King, QB Nick Marshall
Aug. 31 Washington State
Sept. 7 Arkansas State
Sept. 14 Mississippi State
Sept. 21 at LSU
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Ole Miss
Oct. 10 Western Carolina
Oct. 18 at Texas A&M
Oct. 26 FAU
Nov. 2 at Arkansas
Nov. 8 at Tennessee
Nov. 16 Georgia
Nov. 23 Bye Week
Nov. 30 Alabama
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Offensive Strength: The running game. Tre Mason returns as arguably the team's best player and four starters are back along the line.
Offensive Weakness: Quarterback. This is a major concern heading into the 2013 season as few teams played as poorly under center as Auburn did a year ago.
Defensive Strength: Defensive backs. This is the position that was hit the least with departures as only one key player (T'Sharvan Bell) doesn't return to the secondary.
Defensive Weakness: Front seven star power. Corey Lemonier, Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans leave three holes in the front seven — soon to be front six. This group has talented bodies but someone needs to step up and lead.
Spring Storylines Facing the Cardinals
1. Who will start under center? By far the biggest question mark swirling on The Plains is who will start at quarterback for the Tigers? Kiehl Frazier is the leading returning passer — if what he did last year can be called passing — but he is fairly young and his skills fit what Malzahn wants to do on offense.While Jonathan Wallace might be a slightly less refined (if that's possible) and talented version of Frazier, he was more effective last fall. With three highly touted passers coming to town in the summer, both Wallace and Frazier need to make major headway this spring. New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will bring the no-huddle hurry-up back to Auburn and that system should allow the two scholarship players on campus to make plays with their legs. Are they keeping the seat warm for junior college transfer Nick Marshall or elite freshmen Johnny Johnson and Jason Smith or can Frazier/Wallace realize their potential and grasp the starting job?
2. Develop an edge up front on offense. The good news is the offensive line returns four starters. The bad news is those starters were horrendous last season. This group was dead last in the SEC at protecting the quarterback (3.09 sacks allowed per game) and finished 78th nationally in rushing. Creating a push and playing with a killer instinct up front will go a long way in helping develop a quarterback. This group has talent according to the recruiting sites but it hasn't played with the intensity and edge needed to be successful against SEC defenses. Look for Lashlee and Malzahn to instill some toughness in this group and develop talent up front on offense this spring.
3. Grow the defensive line. Gabe Wright has tons of upside at nose guard. So too does Dee Ford, the team's leading sack artist last fall, Nosa Eguae and LaDarius Owens on the outside. No one player may be able to replace Lemonier but as a whole this unit could be improved in 2013. Of course, on a team that was 14th in the SEC in rushing defense, 11th in the SEC sacks and 12th in tackles for a loss, the only place to go is up. Developing this area of the field, more so than any other, will help Auburn get back to competitive football as quickly as possible.
4. Create depth at linebacker. Jake Holland is the only returning linebacker with any substantial experience after Jonathan Evans and Daren Bates graduated. Ellis Johnson is moving this defense to a 4-2-5 and so this position might not be as big a concern had the switch (from 4-3) hadn't happened. However, Holland needs some help to step up around him. Kris Frost is someone Auburn fans have been excited about for some time and this spring is his chance to shine. Cassanova McKinzy has some time under his belt but needs to iron out his game to earn a starting spot while Justin Garrett also figures heavily into the mix.
5. Find playmakers on offense other than Mason. The Tigers' starting tailback, while not a true SEC workhorse, was the most productive player on the team last year. But there is little depth around him at running back, wide receiver or tight end in terms of playmakers. Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen are gone and this spring will likely see Malzahn attempt to find supporting pieces for Mason and his quarterbacks. Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and tight end C.J. Uzomah have upside and should develop into starters while Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis and running backs Corey Grant, Cameron Artis-Payne and Peyton Barber will look to create depth. Finding big-play options at running back, wideout and tight end will be huge this spring for the soon-to-be fast-paced offense.
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