Final Preseason Football Report Card

Columnist Phillip Marshall grades the football Tigers before they open with a major test on the road on the West Coast.

The time for talk is almost over. All the polls, all the predictions, all the arguments will be irrelevant now. The only thing that matters is what happens on the field.

Auburn's football team will be tested as it rarely has in an opener, traveling across the country to play Southern California in the famed Los Angeles Coliseum.

There is little doubt Tommy Tuberville's fourth Auburn team is his most talented. Is it a team ready to contend for a championship? We'll all know soon enough.

My preseason Auburn report card:

*Daniel Cobb clearly won the job during two-a-days. He has all the things you look for in a quarterback--size, strength athleticism, maturity. The only real question is if he can overcome the tendency he showed last year to make bad plays at the worst possible times. Jason Campbell certainly is one of the more capable backups in the SEC.
Grade: B-

*TAILBACK: Carnell Williams is a great football player, pure and simple. If he stays healthy, he will be among the nation's best. Ronnie Brown and Chris Butler could start for many SEC teams. Freshman Tre Smith, quick, strong and tough, has a tremendous upside.
Grade: A

*Fullback For the first time in his career, Brandon Johnson will be a significant part of the offense. He languished on the sideline most of last season, a puzzling situation for a team struggling to score points. Johnson is widely regarded as the toughest man on the team, a player who goes so hard he literally makes himself sick. Jake Slaughter, the backup, is in the same mold. Victor Horn, the third-stringer, has the athletic ability of a tailback.
Grade: A

* WIDE RECEIVER: Senior Marcel Willis has shown he can be a big-time receiver when he's healthy. The problem is he hasn't been healthy for more than a year. Silas Daniels has had an impressive preseason, but he still has to show he can do it when it counts. Jeris McIntyre has been up and down. Freshmen Ben Obomanu, Anthony Mix, Devin Aromashodu, Montae Pitts and Courtney Taylor could all be playing key roles before the season is over, but until they do it, they must be considered question marks.
Grade: C.

*TIGHT END: Lorenzo Diamond and Robert Johnson already gave Auburn perhaps the best pair in the conference. Throw in redshirt freshman Cooper Wallace, a star in spring practice, and the position is even stronger. The tight ends are going to get plenty of passes thrown their way in Bobby Petrino's offense.
Grade: A

*OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Monreko Crittenden is set at strong tackle. Mark Pera will be the man at weak tackle, though he may share time with redshirt freshman Steven Ross. While Pera was out with a bad hip flexor, Ross made quite an impression. It's popular in some quarters to bash Crittenden because of the problems he had with speed rushers last season, but in truth, he is a potential high draft pick. He will almost always be covered by the tight end in Petrino's scheme. Redshirt freshman Taylor Bourgeois and sophomore Ryan Broome could make their moves at any time.
Grade: B

*OFFENSIVE GUARD: The most interesting storyline here is senior walk-on Ryan Hockett. Hockett has apparently held off a challenge from freshman Marcus McNeill at strong guard. Danny Lindsey is set as the starter at weak guard with freshman Troy Reddick waiting in the wings.
Grade: B.

*CENTER: Ben Nowland is a fifth-year senior, an All-SEC candidate and a team leader. Should Nowland go down, Lindsey would move over from guard and become the No. 1 center.
Grade: B+.

*DEFENSIVE END: Reggie Torbor is one of the top defensive ends in the SEC, but there's not another player available who has ever taken a snap at the position in a college game. Converted tight end Jay Ratliff has everything it takes except experience. Bret Eddins is strong and intelligent. Same with converted tackle Dexter Murphy. Freshman Ben Grubbs is going to be a good one, but you have to wonder if he's ready for what's ahead.
Grade: C+

*DEFENSIVE TACKLE: DeMarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson seem to be healthy. If they are, they're among the SEC's best. Redshirt freshman Wayne Dickens and true freshman Tommy Jackson have been impressive in the preseason. Dante Booker is the strongest player on the team.
Grade: B+

*LINEBACKER: It is the strongest position on the team. Starters Dontarrious Thomas, Mark Brown and Karlos Dansby are all probably on their way to the NFL. Backups Lemarcus Rowell, Antarrious Williams and Travis Williams have the same kind of talent. They just need experience. High school All-American Mayo Sowell has difficulty finding a place to play.
Grade: A+

*CORNERBACK: Roderick Hood and Carlos Rogers are set as the starters, but for the first time in a long time, there will be ample depth. Rashaud Walker has been a starter for most of his career. Former walk-on Lamel Ages has been outstanding in preseason practice. Senior Horace Willis isn't far behind. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik says all five will probably play.
Grade: A

*SAFETY: Moving former cornerbacks Travaris Robinson and Junior Rosegreen to safeties was a master stroke. They made plays in the spring, they've made plays in the preseason and they'll make plays when the season starts. Backups Donnay Young and Roshard Gilyard are both former starters.
Grade: A

*PUNTER/KICKER: Damon Duval is among the nation's best at both spots. If there's any question it is about the second half of last season, when he went into something of a slump. If preseason practice is any indication, there'll be no slump this season.
Grade: A+

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