Facing conference foe Arkansas to open the 2014 season on Aug. 30, Coach Gus Malzahn’s team has four weeks to get ready for a Razorbacks' team that should be fired up about the opportunity to face one of the nation’s top teams. With experience returning on both sides of the ball the Tigers still have plenty of questions that need to be answered before suiting up in the season opener.
Who is this year’s Dee Ford
Who is the player on this year’s squad who goes from solid contributor and performer in his career to a very good player in 2014?
My two picks are LaDarius Owens on the defensive line and Avery Young on the offensive line. Owens has all the physical tools to be the pass rusher the Tigers are looking for and if he can stay healthy I think big things are in store for the senior.
Versatile enough to play tackle or guard, Young has almost a full season as a starter under his belt and his combination of athleticism and strength should make him a focal point up front this year.
Who am I looking forward to seeing?
There are a couple of newcomers who could play a big role right away for the Tigers and one of them is junior college transfer Davonte Lambert. Dropping almost 20 pounds since he got on campus, Lambert has impressed his teammates with his quick feet and athleticism in summer workouts. He could be just what the doctor ordered for the Auburn defense early in the season with Carl Lawson sidelined after knee surgery.
Another is running back Racean Thomas. Having watched Roc play since he was a sophomore at Oxford, I think he’s got a chance to contribute early in his Auburn career. I think back to when Carnell Williams arrived at Auburn for his first practices and some thought he was too small to play right away. They were wrong. While Thomas is much more prepared physically to play, he also possesses the same drive and determination I saw from Cadillac a dozen years ago.
Most Intriguing Position Battle
While offensive tackle and running back will get a lot of talk, for my money the battle that will have the most impact will be at safety opposite Jermaine Whitehead. Starting the first six games of the 2013 season before going down with a knee injury just before the Texas A&M game, junior Josh Holsey is back to full speed and that’s great news for the defense. The big question is can Holsey knock junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief out of the number one spot after he was impressive in spring practice?
A cornerback his freshman season, Holsey could be a huge addition to the defense as the nickel back and would make the defense stronger in that role. He could also get a look back at corner in an effort to get the best 11 on the field. It all hinges on how well Moncrief looks in the preseason.
Kicking it into high gear
The Tigers must replace two three-year starters on special teams, kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark. Parkey turned into Mr. Automatic from inside 50 yards and was a huge safety net for the offense in addition to his consistency on kickoffs. Last season he connected on 15-21 field goal attempts and was 14-17 on kicks less than 50 yards.
Daniel Carlson should have no problems in the kickoff department because of his strong leg, but like any young kicker there could be some struggles early in the season. If he gets through the first few weeks without any major concerns it’s going to be huge for the Tigers.
Auburn’s defense improved a great deal last season in terms of points allowed and some of the credit has to go to Clark. He became deadly at pinning opponents deep in their own territory in 2013 and was always very good at not giving up return yards. He only allowed five punts to be returned for a total of 35 yards a year ago. His net punting average was the key stat during his career and it will be something to watch for Jimmy Hutchinson this fall. The camp experience will give him some idea of what to expect, but we won’t know for sure until they hit the field for real on Aug. 30 when the Razorbacks visit Jordan-Hare Stadium.