Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and the rest of the offensive staff have to replace four starters on the offensive line plus two starting receivers and a fullback. And, by the way, there is also the matter of replacing the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, who had the most productive single season of any offensive player in the history of SEC football.
"One goal for the spring on offense is to find our best 11 and then we want to get a foundation in with our base plays," Malzahn says. "We are in the evaluation mode.
"The good thing is we have a lot of young guys who will be competing for positions,"?the offensive coordinator adds. "We are really curious as a coaching staff about a lot of people. Our goal is to find that top 11 so they can start working together and build continuity as soon as possible. That is kind of where we are at right now."
For a third straight spring, Malzahn will be looking to find a new starting quarterback. Chris Todd won the assignment in 2009 and then graduated after leading the Tigers to a bowl victory. Last year Cameron Newton won the job and led the Tigers to the BCS Championship and a 14-0 record before leaving to enter the NFL?Draft.
With Neil Caudle a senior last season that means there are only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster for spring practice--junior-to-be Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley, who was a redshirt freshman last fall.
"Those are the two guys who will get the majority of the reps so we will have to be smart with their arms," Malzahn says. "We do have Logan Paul, a walk-on, who will be a third arm for us. Logan is from Gulf Shores. He played in a spread program in high school that ran the shotgun."
Last spring Trotter gave Cameron Newton a battle for the first string assignment, but the one-and-done juco transfer made Malzahn's choice look good by justifying the coach's faith that Newton would continually improve in his first season as an Auburn starter. That is exactly what happened after Malzahn named Newton No. 1 on the depth chart after spring drills. By the end of the fall, Newton had left his mark all over the Auburn offensive record book.
Trotter, 6-2, 211 from Briarwood Christian in Birmingham, threw for 7,698 yards in high school and was also a productive runner. Redshirted in 2008 as a true freshman, he missed the 2009 season after having knee surgery before making a nice comeback in 2010.
Trotter is shown in action last season as a sophomore.
Last season Trotter saw action in five games. He completed 6-9 passes for 64 yards and ran the football five times for 68 yards and one touchdown, an 18-yarder vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Malzahn will be watching Trotter closely this spring to see if the QB is ready for prime-time action.
Moseley, a former Mr. Alabama Mr. Football at Leroy High School, played in one game last year. He carried the football two times for eight yards and did not attempt a pass.
Scout.com five-star recruit Kiehl Frazier is scheduled to join the team after he graduates from Shiloh Christian High in Springdale, Ark., in May, but by then one of the returning quarterbacks could have established himself as a strong number one guy on the depth chart.
The depth chart this spring is also thin at running back even though the Tigers return their one-two punch with Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer returning. However, key backup Mario Fannin has graduated and the team's top fullback, Eric Smith, was dismissed from the squad over the winter.
McCalebb is coming off an impressive sophomore season in which he set a single-season Auburn record of 8.5 yards per carry. He should be a featured player again this year.
Dyer didn't have as an impressive yards per rush average as McCalebb, but he managed a strong 6.0 yards per carry and became the first freshman in Auburn history to break the 1,000-yard rushing yards mark and did it with 93 yards to spare.
Another possibility at running back is rising junior Anthony Gulley Morgan, who has been moved back to offense from cornerback. He has played briefly at receiver and running back for the Tigers.
"Anthony Morgan coming over will certainly help and he has a good grasp of the offense already," Malzhan says.
"We have Onterio and Mike coming back," Malzahn adds. "Mike was very good running the ball, but we want to take Mike's role and make it even bigger with all of the pass protections and all of that."
Onterio McCalebb is a big-play threat for the offense.
More help at the position will come from walk-on Davis Hooper, who saw some limited playing time last fall. "He will have a bigger role this spring," Malzahn says. "He will give us flexibility at the running back position as well as the fullback position. He will have a good chance to show what he can do."
Smith's absence opens the door for expanded playing time for whopper fullback Ladarious Phillips. He caught the coaching staff's attention with some good work in preseason last year as a true freshman out of Handley High in Roanoke, but he injured an ankle on the final play of the final preseason scrimmage and that forced a redshirt season.
Phillips was healthy enough to practice during bowl preparations and scrimmaged as both a fullback and defensive tackle, one of the positions he played in high school. To start spring drills the very big back is expected to line up at fullback even though he weighs close to 300 pounds.
To help fill the gap for the spring at fullback the Tigers will use walk-on Chris Humphries. In the past Humphries has worked at defensive end and linebacker with some spot duty on offense. "Chris Humphries is a tough guy," Malzahn says. "The fact that he played at fullback some last year will help him, too. He will get a really good look in the spring."
One of the reasons the Tigers led the SEC in offense in 2010 was a line that featured senior Ryan Pugh at center flanked by seniors Mike Berry and Byron Isom at the guard spots and All-American senior Lee Ziemba at left tackle.
The Tigers do have a pair of tackles back with starting experience to build around. A.J. Greene opened the 2010 season as the starter at right tackle, but was injured in game three vs. Clemson and was lost for the season. Greene is ready to go again as is his replacement, Brandon Mosley, who like Greene will be a senior this fall.
Mosley's development as a starter was one of the highlights on offense for the national champs and was particularly impressive considering the transfer from junior college had never played on the offensive line prior to the 2010 season.
Chad Slade, who redshirted last fall as a freshman, is expected is another possibility at tackle.
Pugh will certainly be missed at center, but the Tigers appear to have a trio of good candidates to play the position. Blake Burgess, a 6-2, 278 walk-on from Vestavia Hills, returns as a redshirt sophomore this year and has a solid chance to emerge as the starter.
Another possibility is early high school graduate Reese Dismukes, who is coming off a terrific season in which he led Spanish Fort High to the school's first football state championship as a dominating force in the middle of the line. Dismukes has been taking classes and working out at Auburn since January. Walk-on Ryan Preston will also get a look at center.
Reese Dismukes is shown at practice for the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game held in December.
Jared Cooper, a 6-4, 300 rising senior from W.S. Neal in Brewton, is a two-time Academic All-SEC selection who has the size and intelligence to play any of the five offensive line positions. He saw action in all 14 games last year and if he is used at center could make a push for the starting job.
Cooper is also a possibility at guard where he is expected to get most of his work this spring. The Tigers must replace backup guards Bart Eddins and Jorrell Bostrom, who were seniors last season, in addition to losing the starters.
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has numbers to work with at guard, but precious little experience in addition to Cooper and rising junior John Sullen, who also plays tackle. Sullen started one game at guard as a true freshman in 2009 and played in 13 games last season. He is expected to open the spring at guard.
Other players competing for a starting spot at guard include redshirt freshmen Ed Christian, Tunde Fariyike and Eric Mack. Early high school graduate Thomas O'Reilly is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and won't be able to get in the battle for playing time until preseason drills in August.
Joining Newton and Nick Fairley as juniors who declared for the NFL?Draft, Darvin Adams will be missed at wide receiver where he caught a team-leading 52 passes for 963 yards last season with seven touchdowns.
Terrell Zachery was second on the team in receptions with 43 and finished his senior season with 605 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
The good news for wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor is that his top touchdown-maker, Emory Blake, returns for his junior season after catching 33 passes for 554 yards and eight scores. Malzahn says he wants to see Blake step up and become the go-to guy like Adams has been the past two seasons.
Taylor was hoping that speedy Quindarius Carr would have a breakout season as a junior, but that did not happen. Carr only caught three passes in 2010, but did manage to score a pair of touchdowns on those receptions while averaging a team-leading 34.3 yards per reception.
Another possibility at wide receiver is rising junior DeAngelo Benton, who Taylor says has the tools to be a successful player in the SEC. Malzahn agrees and says he sees the possibility of the former Louisiana high schools star taking advantage of his opportunity for expanded playing time beginning this spring.
A Tiger with plenty of potential will be a redshirt freshman this fall. Trovon Reed played briefly earlier last season coming in from Thibodaux, La., High before being shut down due to a knee injury, which has healed. Reed should be ready to compete for a starting assignment if he stays healthy.
Malzahn is expected to get the football into the hands of Trovon Reed early and often for the 2011 season.
Travante Stallworth is another receiver from Louisiana who has had to overcome a knee injury. He is expected to push for playing time this fall and Malzahn says he is looking forward to seeing what Stallworth can do this year as a redshirt sophomore.
A pair of 2010 true freshmen who played briefly as receivers, Antonio Goodwin and Shaun Kitchens, have been permanently dismissed from the team after being arrested earlier this month. Another backup, Derek Winter, is graduating early and will not return for his senior season. Philip Pierre-Louis, who suffered another in a series of injuries in bowl practice, is not expected to be play any more football for the Tigers.
The second leading receiver in yardage and catches among the returning players for the 2010 Auburn team is tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who caught 15 passes for 185 yards and five scores. It won't be a surprise if he is one of the top players in the SEC this fall as a junior.
Mike Berry lifts Lutzenkirchen to celebrate a touchdown catch by the tight end.
Humphries could also get some work at tight end this spring, but depth is thin at the position with freshman Dakota Mosley getting kicked off the team along with Kitchens, a player who might have seen action at tight end in addition to wide receiver.
With kicker Wes Byrum finishing his college career on the game-winning field goal in the BCS Championship Game the Tigers will be counting on his backup, sophomore Cody Parkey, to fill that spot. The Tigers also have a walk-on at the position, Chandler Brooks.
A sophomore is the favorite to be the number one punter this fall with Ryan Shoemaker finishing his college career as the starter in 2010. Steven Clark has a strong leg and that temporarily won him the number one spot as a true freshman, but lack of consistency sidelined him as he averaged 34.5 yards on nine punts.
Deep snapper Josh Harris, the starter for the national champions, will be back as a senior this fall. Most of the snapping for Harris last year was for extra points and field goals, not punts, a trend the Auburn offense will try to keep going this fall.