Marshall: Assessment of AU's Football Team

Phillip Marshall takes a look at the Auburn football team as the Tigers near the close of spring practice.

One man's view of where Auburn's football team stands as spring practice winds down:

*Senior quarterback Brandon Cox is poised to have a big season if he stays healthy. Just staying on the field throughout last season was an accomplishment for Cox, who was limping badly from the time he took a withering shot to the knee in the third game against LSU. He's been healthy and happy this spring, and it's shown on the field.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville says Cox earned the undying respect of his teammates and coaches in 2006. "We on the staff know what Brandon went through," Tuberville says. "We are really proud of what he did. Any day he could have taken a day off, taken two or three weeks off to get healthy. But he pushed through it. That's what Auburn football is all about."

*The offensive line is a work in progress and will still be a work in progress when the season starts. It's not a lack of talent. There's plenty of that. Players on the offensive line have to work as one. When you have four new starters, it takes a while for that chemistry to develop. And it can't fully develop in practice.

*That wide receiver Rodgeriqus Smith came to Auburn as an uninvited walk-on seems to make some people believe that he must not have the talent to be a big-time receiver. Forget that. He is a very good football player who will almost certainly be Cox's go-to guy. And he has the speed and athleticism to do the job. Smith's fellow receivers, mostly young guys, need to get more consistent catching the football and making plays that are there to be made.

*Fullback/tailback Carl Stewart might be the most solid all-around player on the Auburn team. He'll never have spectacular statistics, but Stewart does everything well. He can run, block, catch and he is extraordinarily intelligent. He's the kind of guy that does whatever he needs to do to help win games.

*Has Auburn ever had a better trio of tight ends than Cole Bennett, Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie? Look for them to be an integral part of the offense next season.

*Look for redshirt freshman tailback Mario Fannin to be significant factor in the offense, starting with the first game.

*The defense of second-year coordinator Will Muschamp might be the best at Auburn in a while. It's already good. It has a chance to be great.

*The defensive line could a dominant force. There is talent and depth. Mike Blanc is a future star at defensive tackle.

Mike Blanc (93) has been one of the standouts this spring among the younger players.

*Though the experience of Will Herring and Karibi Dede will be missed, there is far more talent and playmaking ability at linebacker on this Auburn team than the last one.

*Patrick Lee will be an All-SEC caliber cornerback. Jonathan Wilhite could be as well. At safety, Eric Brock's experience and Aairon Savage's athleticism are a terrific mix.

*The kicking game won't be as strong as last season, but it'll be good enough. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and special teams coordinator Eddie Gran won't have it any other way.

Fans will get a closeup look at the Tigers in Saturday's annual A-Day game. What they'll almost certainly see, especially when the first teams are on the field, is a game dominated by defense.

With the game on live television, packages on offense and defense will be limited. Like most A-Day games, it's not likely to offer a lot of excitement.

Until next time...

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