I have been thinking about what type of team Gus Malzahn will put on the field in his first year as a head coach of the Tigers. With the new staff and new enthusiasm, I am expecting across the board improvement. In fact, I can't think of a position on the team at which the Tigers don't have a chance to be better than they were last season.
That doesn't mean there weren't some good players from the 2012 team who will have to be replaced. This year's team may not have a wide receiver who will be as good as Emory Blake was, but there is enough talent at that position for the group to be more productive than it was last fall.
I expect with all of the talented young players returning on the offensive line that group will be much improved this fall. There is also no reason the running backs group won't be better with the top tailback returning in Tre Mason and a big, productive fullback in Jay Prosch plus help from the signee class on the way.
To be successful in the SEC the quarterback has to be a guy who makes good decisions and important plays in critical situations. Knowing Coach Malzahn's and Coach Lashlee's success at coaching this position, I will be shocked if the quarterback play isn't better this fall, but like everybody else I am curious to see who emerges as the starter.
The Tigers lost a talented player on defense with Corey Lemonier deciding to bypass his senior season for the NFL Draft. Hopefully, he has a long and successful career in the pros, but Lemonier didn't play that well last year so it shouldn't be difficult to replace him with the guys who are coming back. He played pretty well early in the season, but didn't make a lot of plays later in the season.
On the front four and at the other positions on defense almost all of the key players are back for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and his staff to work with this spring. Also, the kicking game will be led by a pair of proven performers with Cody Parkey and Steven Clark returning for their senior seasons.
Every position is important, but without a doubt the most important thing that needs to happen for the 2013 Tigers, whether it takes place in the spring or in preseason practice in August, is to find the right guy to lead the offense at quarterback. Putting a productive player on the field at that position is crucial to a team's success. In addition to what he does for the offense, the quarterback is the guy who can keep the defense on the sideline by making good decisions to keep the chains moving. He can also give his team the belief it can win a football game with him leading the way, which should be especially important to a team coming off such a disappointing season.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.