Marshall: Sizing Up The 07 Football Tigers

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at the Auburn Tigers as they prepare to begin spring football practice on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, Auburn will begin the long journey toward another football season, one that has promise but question marks.

Here is one man's view on how the Tigers will compare position-by-position to the season that ended less than two months ago with a 21-17 victory over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl:


Better or worse? Better. Brandon Cox, for much of the season, was a far cry from the quarterback who played as a sophomore in 2005. He played on a bad knee and bad leg for most of the season. His throwing motion was messed up. He wasn't mobile to begin with, but because of his injuries, he was a virtual statue in the pocket.

There'll be no race for the starting job. That belongs to Cox in his senior year. There will be quite a battle for the backup job. Blake Field will have to fight off redshirt freshmen Neil Caudle and Steven Ensminger. The winner will have to contend with incoming freshman Kodi Burns in two-a-days.


Better or worse?. Better. That might seem surprising, considering Kenny Irons is gone. But Irons, much like Cox, was seldom full-speed last season.

Junior Brad Lester, back in the good graces of head coach Tommy Tuberville after being suspended for the Cotton Bowl, has game-breaking ability. Redshirt freshman Mario Fannin is a potential superstar. Sophomore Ben Tate will work at tailback, but will probably be more of a fullback in the mode of Ronnie Brown.

Incoming freshman Enrique Davis will be a factor in August. Tristan Davis? He might be a star in the spring, but it'll be difficult for him to get much playing time on offense when the bell rings in September.


Better or worse? Better. Carl Stewart, one of the team's better all-around players, is back for his second season as the starter. Tate will also be a factor. Incoming freshman John Douglas could be in the mix in situations that call for a pure blocker.


Better or worse? Worse. There is plenty of talent but precious little experience. Courtney Taylor's ability and leadership will not be easily replaced. Newcomers like Tim Hawthorne and Terrell Zachary will be called on to grow up quickly. The best scenario is for Prechae Rodriguez to blossom into a go-to guy as a senior.


Better or worse? Worse early in the season and better late in the season. With four new starters, it'll be a work in progress. Auburn coaches can only hope that senior Leon Hart finally lives up to his potential in what will be his first and only season as a starter. King Dunlap could be a dominant force at tackle.


Better or worse? Clearly better. Sophomores Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie were forced into action early when Cole Bennett was lost for the season against LSU. Bennett is back and Trott and McKenzie have valuable experience.


Better or worse? Worse. Whoever wins the job will be hard-pressed to equal what John Vaughn did as a senior.

Freshman wide receiver Tim Hawthorne is one of the players who must emerge on offense while David Irons has to be replaced on defense.


Better or worse? Hard to say. Quinton Groves will be one of the top returning defensive players in the nation, but there are questions marks behind him and on the other side. There is, however, plenty of talent.


Better or worse? Better. Sen'Derrick Marks is a budding star. Josh Thompson, at nose guard, is reliable if not spectacular. Pat Sims was terrific in the Cotton Bowl. A talented crew of redshirt freshmen will get their chances.


Better or worse? Like the offensive line, worse early and better late. Craig Stevens, Steve Gandy, Merrill Johnson, Patrick Trahan, Tray Blackmon (yes, he is expected to be back and eligible) and friends will be more talented than last year's group, but not nearly as experienced.


Better or worse? Worse. David Irons, one of Auburn's better cover corners of recent years, is gone. There is ample talent in the likes of Jonathan Wilhite, Pat Lee and Jerraud Powers, but no one who has proven he can do what Irons did. On the other hand, having a year in defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's system will make a big difference.


Better or worse? Better. Starters Eric Brock and Aairon Savage return. Zach Etheridge and Powers can play corner or safety. Look for incoming freshman Michael McNeil to make an immediate impact, maybe even push one of the returning starters.


Better or worse? Worse. Kody Bliss was among the nation's best. Heir apparent Ryan Shoemaker might be, but he has it to prove.

Overall, the 2007 Tigers will probably be more talented top to bottom than the 2006 version. They will be short on seniors, which means short on experience. They will face a brutal road schedule.

Could they match the 11 wins put up by the 2006 team? Sure they could. Will they? Probably not.

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