Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was not ready to name the starting quarterback upon the conclusion of spring practice this year and the Tigers have to settle on their playing rotation at the wide receiver position. Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen are the two primary returning targets from 2010 and should provide a comfort zone for the eventual starting quarterback.
With the loss of so many key players from last year's pass offense it will be interesting to see just how the Auburn passing game will look in 2011 and how Malzahn utilizes his personnel. To better visualize just how the offensive coordinator will operate in 2011 here is a review of his previous pass offenses, including the breakdown of the pass distribution.
2006 Arkansas--61.0 percent wide receiver, 31.8 percent running back and 2.6 percent tight end.
2007 Tulsa--65.5 percent wide receiver, 32.7 percent running back and 0.9 percent tight end.
2008 Tulsa--71.9 percent wide receiver, 25.9 percent running back and 2.2 percent tight end.
2009 Auburn--52.8 percent wide receiver, 39.0 percent running back and 7.3 percent tight end.
2010 Auburn--75.8 percent wide receiver, 15.5 percent running back and 7.7 percent tight end.
With the loss of Adams and Zachery look for the running backs to be featured more often in the pass offense in 2011. Last season Auburn went from running the football 60.2 percent of the time in 2009 to 68.8 percent, thus the running backs were utilized in a more traditional manner.
The Tigers will likely be closer to 60 percent in 2011, which means additional opportunities for those involved in the pass offense, especially the running backs. Isolating running backs Michael Dyer or Onterio McCalebb on a linebacker or putting them out in space will result in more explosive plays.
Blake was Auburn's third leading receiver in 2010 with 33 receptions and was the second most targeted receiver with 54 passes thrown to him. He converted his 33 receptions into 18 first downs and eight touchdowns. He accumulated 13 plays of 15 yards or more, including eight of 25 yards or more.
Blake is Auburn's most polished and experienced wide receiver and he could very well be the team leader in receptions in 2011. With Coach Malzahn moving Lutzenkirchen to the slot position the writing is on the wall for the third-year tight end to have a breakout season in 2011. He already has seven career touchdown receptions on just 20 receptions. At 6-4, 264 pounds Lutzenkirchen will be a large and reliable target who will likely double or even triple is production in 2011.
DeAngelo Benton (20) and Quindarius Carr (38) have appeared in a combined 58 games while at Auburn, but only have 18 career receptions between the two. Playing behind Adams and Zachery made it difficult for Benton and Carr to make an impact, but the opportunity is staring them right in the face this season. If both step up Auburn will basically have their pass offense solidified except for the quarterback position.
Philip Lutzenkirchen is hoisted by teammate Mike Berry after making a touchdown catch last season.
Over the past five seasons Malzahn's top four leading receivers have accounted for nearly 70 percent of the team's receptions. Blake, Lutzenkirchen. Benton and Carr could establish the core of the Auburn pass offense, but look for some newcomers to make their presence known in 2011. A healthy Travante Stallworth could work his way back into the playing rotation, especially with his athletic ability to play multiple positions on offense.
Ready for Prime Time...
Of all the newcomers on offense, Trovon Reed has to be the leading candidate to make a splash in 2011. Reed was forced to redshirt in 2010 due to an injury, but looks primed to make an immediate impact from the slot position in 2011.
Reed will be Auburn's utility specialist in 2011. He will likely line up as a receiver, running back and possibly at quarterback in the wildcat set. Reed will be dangerous in Auburn's screen game because he possesses the potential to turn a short pass into a long gain with his ability in open space. Malzahn will scheme to get the ball into his hands 5-10 times per game so don't be surprised if Reed ends up being Auburn's third leading receiver in 2011.
Trovon Reed is shown during spring practice.
Malzahn is not afraid to play freshman on offense, which means 2011 signees Sammie Coates, Jaylon Denson, Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah have an opportunity to contribute with Auburn retooling its pass offense. Over the past five seasons Malzahn has played an average of three to four freshmen per season in his pass offense.
The key will be if the freshmen can prove to Trooper Taylor they are prepared and committed to do the little things that will translate to playing time on the field. This will include their knowledge of the offense, route running and blocking. A player like Kodi Burns caught only 17 passes in 2010, but he was instrumental with his blocking in Malzahn's elaborate screen-game.
A player like Coates possesses the talent to make an impact as a true freshman, but he must prove to be a consistent commodity or the offense will fail to reach its full potential. Auburn's offense relies on moving parts to take the focus off where the ball is actually flowing, which means the decoys are just as important in selling the fake and making key blocks.
Coates and all other true freshmen must comprehend the importance of playing the game without the football is just as vital as making the play with the football. Once that light comes on then, and only then, Will Taylor feel comfortable putting them on the field on a regular basis.
Making the play...
Over the past four seasons 75.6 percent of the pass plays covering at least 15 yards were made by a wide receiver in Malzahn's offense. This also includes 78.4 percent of the plays with a distance of at least 25 yards. When you consider that Auburn is 91-18-2 since 1992, when generating at least eight plays of 15 yards or more during a game, Malzahn's average of 5.4 plays from his wide receivers is well past the halfway point.
Though Auburn will run the football 60-65 percent of the time, the pass offense will keep the defense guessing and honest when it comes to defending the entire package. Even though the Auburn pass offense has accounted for only 35.5 percent of the snaps under Malzahn, it has accounted for 56.4 percent of Auburn's "impact" plays or plays of 15 yards or more.
Malzahn's offense is about generating a high number of "impact" plays, which means never relying on one to three players to make them. By spreading the football around the offense becomes more difficult to defend and an offensive player can make a major contribution with a limited number of touches.
During the 2009 season the Tiger offense averaged 5.6 players per game with a recorded impact play. During the 2010 season it increased to 6.2 players per game. During the 2008 season Auburn had an average of 3.7 players per game with at least one impact play. Though Auburn's 2011 group of receivers will lack experience, they still will have the opportunity to make plays.
In 2009 Adams and Zachery entered the season with a combined five career receptions. Despite their lack of experience on the field, they finished the season with a combined 86 receptions for 15 touchdowns, proving they only needed the opportunity to prove they were worthy of making a contribution to the offense.
In order for Auburn to be effective on offense the Tigers will need a couple of new faces to step up in 2011 at wide receiver. Auburn's offensive system, the coaches and opportunity are established, leaving effort and commitment as the only missing components of the equation for success.