Which quarterback takes a step forward this spring?
That is perhaps the biggest question mark on the entire team heading into the 2013 season after a disastrous offensive showing a year ago. Auburn has just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster for spring practice after senior Clint Moseley decided to give up football, meaning both junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace will get the bulk of the reps this spring.
In 2012 the duo both played in nine games for the Tigers, combining for just 1,473 yards passing and six touchdowns with 12 interceptions. The starter early in the season, Frazier had a particularly tough time with the change in offensive systems as he completed just 53.4 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Wallace did a respectable job in the face of serious pressure down the stretch, but must take his game to another level this spring as well if he hopes to be the man when the Tigers take the field against Washington State next fall. The good news for both is that Gus Malzahn's offensive system has a history of very productive quarterback play and he's expecting no different in 2013.
How does the offensive line shake out under new coach J.B. Grimes?
With senior John Sullen the only player gone from last season's offensive line starting group, the expectations are for bigger and better things beginning this spring. Led by juniors Chad Slade and Reese Dismukes, the Tigers have experience in the middle to work with as Grimes begins the work of overhauling the young group to his way of playing.
Returning Greg Robinson at left tackle and the combination of Avery Young and Patrick Miller at right tackle, Grimes will have some experience back outside as well, but there is a good chance the group will experience plenty of moving this spring as he looks for the best five players to put on the field.
With junior college transfer Devonte Danzey expected to make a run at one of the guard spots along with redshirt freshmen Alex Kozan and Jordan Diamond, Grimes will also have redshirt freshmen Shane Callahan, Will Adams and Robert Leff to throw into the mix as well as junior Tunde Fariyike.
The wildcard of the bunch could be redshirt freshman Shon Coleman. Making a successful return to the field following his cancer battle, Coleman could be one to watch at one of the tackle positions because of his size and athleticism.
Can Tre Mason take his game to the next level?
After rushing for 1,002 yards and scoring eight touchdowns on an offense that struggled to move the football much of the time last year, the junior returns looking for even more success as Auburn gets back to the Malzahn way of offense. That way has produced some of the top offensive teams in the country since his days at Arkansas with Darren McFadden. That continued his first season as a head coach at Arkansas State.
Taking over an offense that averaged 154.2 yards on the ground and scored 25 rushing touchdowns, Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee improved those numbers to 206.2 yards per game and 31 scores with David Oku topping the 1,000-yard mark.
Perhaps the key to Mason's spring, and ultimately his season, will be how much help he gets from the rest of the backs. With just junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant to carry some of the load in the short-term, Mason will get plenty of opportunities this spring to show what he can do. The question that remains however is who will be the speed back to take on the role that Onterio McCalebb played so well with the Tigers in this offense. In the spring it may wind up being Quan Bray or another wide receiver and how well they adapt may hold the key to Mason's productivity down the road.
Tre Mason's productivity could be a huge part of the offense for the Tigers
Who will become the go-to wide receiver(s) for the Auburn offense?
One of the biggest keys to Malzahn's offense is having a wide receiver or pair of receivers that can make the clutch catch and are dependable in big situations. At Auburn that was Darvin Adams in his first two years before Emory Blake took that role over in 2011. Last season at Arkansas State it was J.D. McKissic with 103 receptions for 1,022 yards and five touchdowns that took over the job for the Red Wolves while Josh Jarboe added 50 catches for 570 yards and four scores as well.
The good news for Auburn is that there is talent to work with at wide receiver this spring with Bray, Trovon Reed, Jaylon Denson, Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis and walk-on Melvin Ray back this season. The bad news is that the entire group has caught a grand total of 71 career passes and three touchdowns with 61 of those for Bray and Reed.
Can Auburn's offense get its swagger back under Malzahn?
One of the most explosive offensive teams in the country since Malzahn arrived on the Auburn campus prior to the 2009 season, the Tigers have been a shell of themselves on that side of the ball since the middle of the 2011 campaign. Last year everything came to a head as a move to a pro-style offense proved to be a disaster. With no confidence and plenty of positions up for grabs, it will be a big job to get the Tigers back on track but it's something Malzahn has done before.
Prior to his arrival on the Plains the first time, the 2008 Tigers averaged just 17.3 points per game while the quarterbacks combined for just seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions. One year later Auburn's offense scored 33.3 points per game with Chris Todd throwing for 2,612 yards and 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions. If Malzahn and company can get this offense anywhere close to that production in 2013 then Auburn's football fortunes will improve and improve in a hurry.