Marshall: 10 Most Important AU Players

As the 2007 Auburn football team begins to take form, Phillip Marshall gives his list of the 10 most important players on this year's team.

As Auburn begins serious preparations for Tommy Tuberville's ninth season as head coach, there are positions that are deep and talented, positions that are talented and not so deep and positions that are deep and talented but inexperienced.

As with any college football team, there are Auburn players that would be difficult if not impossible to adequately replace. So who are the players Auburn could least afford to lose?

Following is my list of the top 10. It's not a list of the 10 best players on the team, mind you, but a list of the 10 individuals most important to Auburn's hopes of having a big season.

1. Quarterback Brandon Cox. Nothing is more important to making a run at a championship than having a talented, intelligent and experienced quarterback. Cox is all those things.

2. Middle linebacker Tray Blackmon. Auburn's most explosive defensive player, Blackmon has played just six games in his career because of off-field issues. He is the kind of player who can make offenses change what they do just to deal with him. With linebacker being the most questionable position on Auburn's defense, Blackmon needs to have a big year and control things in the middle.

Pound for pound, Blackmon is as explosive as it gets.

3. Defensive end Quentin Groves. It's not that there aren't quality players behind Groves. There are. But players of his caliber can single-handedly change the course of games (see Alabama last season).

4. Center Jason Bosley. Bosley is hard-nosed, athletic and exceptionally bright. All those things are important at center, which is where everything starts on every play. The center is second only to the quarterback when it comes to making sure the right play is run in the right way. Bosley is the only player on the Auburn team who has ever lined up at center in a game.

5. Fullback Carl Stewart. He might be Auburn's best all-around player. Stewart can run, block and catch. He's tremendously intelligent. There's not another player in sight who can do all the things he can do and do them nearly as well.

6. Offensive tackle King Dunlap. Dunlap has been good, but he has yet to achieve the immense promise his physical ability gives him. However, were he to go down, it would leave a hole at left tackle that would probably have to be filled by someone who has played little if at all.

7. Wide receiver Rod Smith. Auburn has plenty of talented receivers, probably more than most people realize, but Smith is clearly the leader. He walked on, earned a scholarship and has the respect of his teammates and coaches. He's clearly the go-to guy. Without him, there would be no clear No. 1.

8. Tight end Cole Bennett. Auburn won without him last season and has two talented players in sophomores Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie behind him. But Auburn coaches will tell you that Bennett blocks as well as any tight end they've been around, in addition to being a sure-handed receiver.

9. Safety Aairon Savage. Auburn coaches believe Savage has All-America potential. If he were to go down, he'd probably be replaced by another player with All-America potential, but it would be a true freshman in Mike McNeil.

10. Kickoff returner Tristan Davis. With kickoffs coming from the 30-yard line this season, there'll be more returns than ever. Davis might be the nation's best.

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