By Tom Blaz of the Recruiting Eagle
Much has been made of the major losses from the championship roster of the 2010 Auburn Tigers. With several dozen seniors and a half dozen more lost through attrition, approximately forty percent of the players that brought home the crystal ball from Arizona are gone.
Make no mistake, the Auburn staff is focused and is expecting to win every Saturday this fall. With a brutal road schedule that includes Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia, LSU, Arkansas and home games against Florida and Alabama, a repeat of the unbeaten ’11 effort is certainly a long shot.
With consensus Top-5 recruiting classes in both 2010 and 2011, the future is indeed bright in Auburn. Many of the freshman and sophomore have already made their way into the two deep depth charts. Auburn projects six seniors in its two deep and a dozen juniors, the remaining 28 either first or second year players.
Auburn has already filled more than half its 2012 recruiting class and has begun on ’13 as well. With so few upperclassman and so many blue chip recruits, don’t be surprised if the Tigers return to the BCS national championship game as early as the 2012 season.
Junior Barrett Trotter will be an important chip in 2011, leading such a young group. Trotter’s starting job may be limited to a single season as true freshman Kiehl Frazier is already knocking on the door and Elite-11 signal caller Zeke Pike arrives next season.
The 2011 Tigers are loaded with quality, but lacking on quantity. Sophomore Michael Dyer broke Bo Jackson’s freshman records a season ago and teams with speedy Junior Onterrio McCalebb. Freshman Tre Mason is the only key backup, but that will change a year from now with two blue chip recruits and transfers Mike Blakely and Corey Grant.
Emory Blake is the only link among pass catchers to the crew that was part of “Air Newton” a season ago. Redshirt freshman Trovon Reed is special and will begin to make his mark this season. A pair of true freshman, Sammie Coates and Jaylon Denson are big, fast and along with several blue chip ’12 recruits, represent the future, sooner than later.
Philip Lutzenkirchen returns as one of the top red zone threats in the nation. The versatile junior can also line up as a fullback or in the slot creating matchup nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. Freshmen Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah bring potential and intriguing size. In what is an embarrassment of riches, a pair of very talented recruits, Ricky Parks and Darrion Hutcherson join a year from now.
Four starters from a year ago are now pushing and shoving at the next level. The Tigers have cobbled together a mix of veterans and newcomers to fill their spots. A pair of seniors, returning starter Brandon Mosley and guard Jared Cooper provide veteran leadership along with junior guard John Sullen. Redshirt freshman Chad Slade managed to beat out returning senior starter A.J Greene, while true freshman Reese Dismukes showed why he was the nation’s top high school center. Five more underclassman, led by elite freshman Christian Westerman and Greg Robinson are part of the two deep.
Anytime you lose a disruptive interior force like Nick Fairley it will be hard felt. The Tigers also lost a pair off senior tackles and ends that had been part of the two deep for three seasons. Sophomore’s Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter start on the inside; backed up by three freshmen, including blue chip tackle Gabe Wright. Auburn is also young at end with All-SEC freshman Corey Lemonier along with fellow sophomore and returning starter Nosa Equae. Watch out for #13Craig Sanders who excelled on special teams a season ago and figures to contributed all along the line in ’12.
Like most positions on the ’12 team, Auburn with some giant shoes to fill in departed three year starters Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes. Jake Holland is the clear leader in the middle, the high school tackling machine earned invaluable experience a season ago. Converted safety Daren Bates starts on the outside, the junior is the small fast type that Chizik loves. Look for a breakout season from senior Eltoro Freeman, who for now, backs up all three spots.
Cornerback and all-conference kick returner Demond Washington is now with the Kansas City Chiefs and the top three safeties have departed. Cornerback Neiko Thorpe returns to start for a third season, but he now lines up at safety. Special teams demon Demetruce McNeal provides big play potential at the other safety spot. Iron Bowl hero T’Sharvan Bell is now the top cover corner with eight underclassman also listed on the depth chart. Keep an eye on #31Trent Fisher, the walk-on safety is the son of former Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.
A new punter and kicker for Auburn, Wes Byrum is now with the Seattle Seahawks after four seasons of clutch kicking on the Plains. Jumbo punter (6’5” 230) Steven Clark is highly regarded, as is the new kicker in the hotly recruited Cody Parkey.
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