Here's one man's less-than-expert view of the Tigers position by position as spring practice nears its conclusion:
QUARTERBACK: It's almost too close to call. Daniel Cobb had a good scrimmage last Saturday, but he continues to throw too many interceptions and inexplicably throws wildly during practice. Jason Campbell still needs to cut it loose down the field more, though he's doing it more than he did last season. I'd still make Campbell the man to beat.
RUNNING BACK: Not since the days of Pat Dye and the wishbone has Auburn been so loaded with runners. Carnell Williams is bigger, stronger and hasn't lost a step. He's clearly the class of the group. Ronnie Brown is thinner and quicker. Casinious Moore looks like the guy who was considered by many the state's top prospect coming out of high school. Chris Butler could start for a lot of teams. He's destined to be fourth string on this one.
FULLBACK: Neither Michael Owens nor Victor Horn has done much to create excitement, but they'll be competing for the backup spot once Brandon Johnson returns in the fall.
Marcel Willis is not having a good spring.
WIDE RECEIVER: It's a problem. I wish someone would tell me what's happened to Marcel Willis. He was a heck of a player in 2000. He was injured all last season and has been all but invisible this spring. Jeris McIntyre has been the best of an undistinguished group. You'll see some of the speedy and talented incoming freshmen playing a lot next season.
TIGHT END: I have to believe Auburn's are as good as any in the country. Robert Johnson, if he stays healthy, has everything it takes to be a great one. Lorenzo Diamond does everything well. Redshirt freshman Cooper Wallace could be destined to be the best one of all. I'd say he's been the offensive highlight of spring practice.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE: These guys have a ways to go. Junior Mark Pera is a solid player who should more than hold his own. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Broome is destined to be an outstanding player, but he's young and has so much to learn. With Taylor Bourgeois out for the spring, walk-ons Rich Trucks and Drew Kirk are the backups.
OFFENSIVE GUARD: Look for this to be a strength in the fall. If Steven Ross can play center--and Auburn coaches believe he can--there's a good chance Danny Lindsey could be moved to guard. Monreko Crittenden is much more comfortable and effective at guard than he was at tackle. Nate French is going to be a good one and so is redshirt freshman David Walker.
CENTER: Fifth-year senior Ben Nowland could be the best in the Southeastern Conference. Lindsey is a future star. Ross or even incoming freshman Will Ward of Prattville could get into the picture as backups, although Ward will almost certainly be a redshirt.
DEFENSIVE END: Reggie Torbor seems ready for a breakout year. He's a chiseled 248 pounds with terrific speed and quickness. Bret Eddins has had a solid spring. No, he's not the greatest athlete, but he's a powerful, hard-working guy who has dreamed all his life of playing for Auburn. He'll answer the bell when things get tough. Jay Ratliff wasn't moved from tight end to sit the bench. Once he gets healthy and learns what to do, he'll be in the rotation. He has the tools to be a great one. Redshirt freshmen Jake Slaughter and Steven Bouldin have had their moments this spring. One of them will probably be the fourth man in a four-man rotation.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Redshirt freshman Wayne Dickens has answered a lot of questions with a terrific spring practice. He and junior Spencer Johnson have been dominant. Ronald Samuel and Dexter Murphy have been decent. DeMarco McNeil has missed spring recovering from knee surgery, but is expected to be full-speed in the fall. If he can return to the form of his redshirt freshman year, the tackle position should be set.
Karlos Dansby is expected to be a star for the Auburn defense.
LINEBACKERS: Wow! In 30-plus years of covering Auburn football, never have I seen such a collection of linebackers. Karlos Dansby, Dontarrious Thomas and Mark Brown are all headed for the NFL. They are fast, strong and mean. Behind them, Lemarcus Rowell, Travis Williams and Antarrious Williams are young but tremendously talented. Mayo Sowell and Derrick Graves are fine players, but they'll have difficulty finding playing time. Brown, the only senior, has been the best of the group this spring. With a good year, he projects as an early-round NFL draft pick.
CORNERBACKS: It should tell you something that Auburn coaches were comfortable enough to move Junior Rosegreen to strong safety. Carlos Rogers and Roderick Hood have everything it takes. Rashaud Walker has moved to corner from strong safety and will probably back up on both sides. Lamel Ages, Horace Willis and Dee Durham all could get into the picture. There's talent and there's depth.
STRONG SAFETY: Rosegreen has moved back to the position he played in high school. He's a physical player with the speed and agility of a cornerback. In other words, he's just what you are looking for. Backup Roshard Gilyard is the hardest hitter on the team.
FREE SAFETY: Heading into his senior season, Travaris Robinson has finally found a home. Robinson could have complained and pouted. He was one of the team's top receivers as a freshman. He was moved to cornerback the next season and has never been a steady starter. Instead of whining, he just kept working. He will be a starter next season and is an outstanding leader. Donnay Young is still learning. The enigmatic Stanford Simmons has dropped to third team and seems likely to spend most of next season on special teams.
KICKING GAME: It will be the Damon Duval show again. He's been solid kicking and punting. Philip Yost still must get more consistent or he'll have a hard time winning the kicking job even after Duval is gone.
It's much too early to say what lies ahead for this football team. New coordinators Bobby Petrino and Gene Chizik have brought some new enthusiasm. The players like them and like their schemes. Look for the defense to be more aggressive than in recent years. Look for the offense to be much more hard-nosed, yet imaginative. The talent level is higher than it's been in years. The difference between the athletes on the field now and in Tommy Tuberville's first spring in 1999 is striking.
And that's where it all begins.
Until next time...