2009 Auburn Football: Offensive Preview

We take a look at the Auburn offense heading into the 2009 season and the opening of fall practice on Wednesday.

Auburn, Ala.--Following a disastrous 2008 season on offense, the Auburn Tigers will have plenty of room to make improvements this year under new coordinator Gus Malzahn.

Averaging just 17.3 points and 302.9 yards per game, the Tigers will be looking to make major strides offensively and that begins at quarterback.

Malzahn's offense is predicated on the quarterback being able to make plays in the passing game also being a capable runner when needed. The first requirement is accuracy and delivering on third down, something Auburn struggled with in 2008.

In the spring juniors Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle battled to a dead head after redshirt freshman Barrett Trotter went down with a knee injury that will sideline him for 2009 in all likelihood.

Can Chris Todd make a run at the starting job this season?

That's the way things will start on Aug. 5 when the Tigers start fall practice, but the addition of a healthier Chris Todd as well as freshmen Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley could make things very interesting. Playing in seven games last season before shutting down because of shoulder problems, Todd threw five of Auburn's seven touchdown passes last season and completed 55.1 percent of his passes.

While the quarterback situation is still very much up in the air, at running back Auburn will turn to the capable hands of senior Ben Tate to help carry the load this season. Last season Tate led Auburn in rushing with 664 yards, almost half of the team's total for the year. In three seasons he has 1,959 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.

In Malzahn's offense a variety of players will touch the ball out of the backfield and a guy who figures to have a prominent role as well is junior Mario Fannin. In two years the former quarterback has rushed for 686 yards and scored six touchdowns. He has averaged five yards per carry in his career and should get more than his 54 carries from a season ago in Malzahn's offense.

Also expected to get some work out of the backfield are sophomore Eric Smith, speedy freshman Onterio McCalebb and shifty redshirt freshman Justin Albert. All were impressive in spring practice and could provide a different look for the defense this fall.

Incoming freshman Dontae Aycock is also a player that could work into the rotation because of his physical style of play. When a fullback is in play the Tigers could turn to sophomore John Douglas for that role with Fannin and Smith also possibilities.

Terrell Zachery could be a key player at receiver for the Tigers.

Wide receiver may be the biggest question outside of quarterback because of the number of new players that will get a look immediately when fall camp opens and the fact that Auburn returns just 47 catches from last season and no touchdowns at the position. With leading receiver Rod Smith gone and even with returning senior Montez Billings expected to return to action this fall after missing spring practice, there is plenty of room for upward mobility at the position.

Throw in an injury to junior Tim Hawthorne that could hamper him early in the year and you've got questions galore for the Tigers.

A player to watch will be junior Terrell Zachery after a strong spring for the Wadley native. The all-time leading receiver in Alabama high school history, Zachery had just two catches last season.

Sophomores Quindarius Carr, Darvin Adams and Derek Winter should also provide some possibilities for the Tigers after going through spring practice under new position coach Trooper Taylor.

One of the questions going into the fall is the health of redshirt freshman Philip Pierre-Louis. Expected to make an impact last season, he was injured on the first play of the year and had knee surgery. He was slowed throughout spring practice as well and could be eased into the fall if he's still not 100 percent.

Needing help the Tigers went out and signed a large group of wide receivers with DeAngelo Benton, Emory Blake, Travante Stallworth and Anthony Gulley all expected to challenge for playing time right away this fall.

Perhaps the strength of the offense comes at the tight end position where seniors Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie return as well as sophomore Bailey Woods. Trott enters the 2009 season with 34 career catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns while McKenzie has caught 29 balls for 287 yards and three scores. Throw in talented true freshman Philip Lutzenkirchen and you have a very good group of tight ends for the Tigers.

Lee Ziemba

Up front the Tigers return a solid group of starters with the potential to get the job done, but a lack of depth could be trouble if the injury bug bites in 2009. The best news of the spring on the OL was the play of left tackle Lee Ziemba. Playing on a bum knee last season, Ziemba had surgery to clean up the problem and should be full speed heading into fall practice. Also up more than 20 pounds from his playing weight last year, Ziemba should be a more physical player for the Tigers.

At the guard positions Byron Isom and Mike Berry return after the duo combined to start 12 games last season.

In the middle junior Ryan Pugh will make the move to his natural position of center after playing mostly tackle his first two seasons at Auburn. He has the ability to become one of the SEC's top centers and be an anchor for the Tigers on offense.

The biggest question is at right tackle where senior Andrew McCain is the favorite to win the job after holding off the competition in spring practice. His play could be a key component to Auburn's success on offense in 2009. Challenging him will be sophomore Vance Smith. The former tight end is up to nearly 290 pounds heading into fall practice and could be the surprise of the camp.

Smith is perhaps the top option at tackle along with redshirt sophomore A.J. Greene. Also expected to get a look at tackle with be several incoming freshmen including Andre Harris and John Sullen. Florida State transfer Aubrey Phillips could also get a look at tackle but is waiting on a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play this season.

On the interior junior Bart Eddins and sophomore Jared Cooper are the top two reserves heading into the fall with Darrell Roseman and Rudy Odom providing additional depth. Eddins can play either guard or center and could be a viable back up at both spots if he can stay healthy.

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