Questions Remain For Tuberville's Tigers

Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football team as it continues in preseason drills in preparation for a tough opener vs. Southern Cal.

In this summer of soaring expectations for Auburn's football team, there has been hardly a discouraging word. Talk is of a Southeastern Conference championship, even a national championship. But to view Auburn as a team without question marks is to be unrealistic. There are questions that must be answered. None is bigger or more crucial than in the secondary.

How those questions are answered could go a long way toward determining if this is indeed a championship team or just another good team. There is depth and experience on the line. The linebackers are as good as any in the nation. The secondary? We don't know and won't know until we see what happens against Southern California and its fleet of receivers that might be the nation's best.

The fact that Junior Rosegreen is at cornerback is not the best of signs. There is no doubt defensive coordinator Gene Chizik would have preferred leaving him at safety, where he excelled last season. But surveying the situation, Chizik felt he had no choice but to move him to cornerback, at least for the first game.

Rosegreen's move will leave the safety positions frightfully inexperienced. Donnay Young played a lot last season and should be solid, but he's not likely to rise to the level of Travaris Robinson. Beside him will either be senior Roshard Gilyard, a senior who is a monster hitter but has been an inconsistent defender, or a raw rookie. Rosegreen will be at one corner. The only secondary player who will be in the same position as last year will be cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Other than quarterback, there is no place on the field where inexperience can be as problematic as in the secondary. Young players are frequently inconsistent players. All it takes is one mistake at cornerback or safety and the scoreboard lights up. USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow will certainly seek to take advantage of that inexperience early and often. "It's very scary," Chizik says. "We are going to count on the front seven to bring the back four along. We can't cover those guys all day. Nobody has yet."

The other big question is on special teams. Among the more interesting battles of the preseason should be between Philip Yost and freshman John Vaughn at place-kicker and redshirt freshman Michael Gibson and true freshman Kody Bliss at punter. My guess is that, in the end, the Tigers will be improved in those areas. It would be almost impossible to be worse kicking field goals than Damon Duval was last season. And by season's end, even his usually consistent punting had left him.

This Auburn team is going to be good. But like all college teams, greatness will depend not so much on the stars as it will on the role players.

NATURAL ATTRITION

The departure of a couple of players and failure to qualify by five more has caused consternation in some corners. It's not a crisis. Far from it.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Mike Sherill, who left the team for good Thursday, was not a factor in the playing rotation and had given no sign he was going to be. Sherill is a great athlete, but he had not adapted well to the demands of college football.

Lemarcus Rowell's troubles, of course, were disappointing. He's likely headed for Itawamba Community College and will probably be back next season if he does the things he needs to do.

Of those who didn't qualify, only cornerback David Irons was a real surprise. He'll almost certainly be back in January with two years of eligibility left. The others also plan on returning, though that could always change. Auburn coaches remain confident that defensive end Stanley McClover will be cleared. The bottom line is that attrition is normal and even necessary. Do the math. Twenty-five scholarships a year and a limit of 85 players on scholarship doesn't add up. Some of them have to go.


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