Auburn Spring Football Preview--Part One

Part one of a series of Auburn spring training previews is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--When spring football drills open for the 2008 Auburn Tigers on Feb. 28th, the team will be looking to replace key seniors from the 2007 group that posted a 9-4 record and finished the season with a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Clemson.

Coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff will have to replace three senior starters on offense and four senior starters on defense plus one junior starter, Pat Sims, who has checked out early to try the NFL.

One of the most closely watched aspects of the 15 days of spring practice will be to see who emerges at quarterback for new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who split the reps in the bowl game between three-year starter Brandon Cox and true freshman Kodi Burns.

With Cox graduated, Burns will face a challenge for playing time from redshirt sophomore Neil Caudle plus a pair of newcomers. Chris Todd, a juco transfer who enrolled in classes at Auburn last month, is familiar with Franklin's version of the spread offense having run the system at Elizabethtown, Ky., High. DeRon Furr, an early high school graduate, also enrolled in classes at Auburn in January. Furr led Carver High of Columbus, Ga., to the AAA state title this past season.

Other senior starters to replace on offense include tight end Cole Bennett and fullback Carl Stewart.

Defensively, the Tigers will focus on rebuilding the front four where three starters must be replaced. Senior noseguard Josh Thompson put together a strong final season as did tackle Sims. Senior end Quentin Groves, who was injured much of the 2007 campaign, is expected to be playing in the NFL this fall.

New defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads looks like he will have some good talent to replace Groves, Thompson and Sims as he puts his touches on the AU defense after handling the same assignment at Pitt.

Antonio Coleman received plenty of playing time with Groves missing so much action last season due to a foot injury. Coleman, a 6-2, 244-pounder, was one of AU's top players in 2007 and his backup, Antoine Carter, performed well for a true freshman, especially as a pass rusher.

Quentin Groves was a major contributor during his time with the Tigers.

Sen'Derrick Marks, who started at the other end spot, is a guy who can also move inside to tackle where the Tigers return sophomores Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton, who both saw backup action last fall. Marks will be a junior this fall.

Inside at noseguard improving Jermarcus Ricks, who will be a junior, is the favorite to emerge as Thompson's replacement.

Another player with game experience on the defensive front is end Michael Goggans, who will be a redshirt sophomore this season. A redshirt freshman who is expected to get plenty of chances to show what he can do this spring is 6-5, 270 A.J. Greene.

Another player to watch at end this fall will be junior Raven Gray, who transferred to Auburn in January from Copiah-Lincoln junior college in Mississippi. However, he is still recovering from knee surgery and won't be able to have contact this spring.

Another senior to replace on defense is cornerback Patrick Lee, a player who should get a serious look to move on to the NFL. Another Tiger cornerback, Jonathan Wilhite, was plagued by injuries much of the last two seasons, but he is also getting a look by the pro scouts and has received an invitation to the NFL Combine.

Rhoads, who coaches the secondary, won't have Eric Brock to work with because the safety, who first broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore, has graduated.

Rhoads will have experienced players back in the secondary to build around with juniors Jerraud Powers and Aairon Savage having starting experience as does sophomore Zach Etheridge.

Auburn's players are currently involved in winter conditioning drills. They will wrap up spring practice with their annual A-Day Game at 1 p.m. on March 29th at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

(This is the first in a series of spring training previews).

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