SEC Preview: Auburn

If there's a hallmark of Tommy Tuberville's tenure as the head coach of the Auburn Tigers it is resiliency. Every year they're met with the challenge of replacing huge contributors like Karlos Dansby, Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell, Marcus McNeill and Ben Grubbs. And every year they almost seamlessly reload.

So while they're might appear to be gaping holes in the depth chart, history has shown that the tigers will once again be successful. While it doesn't appear to be a national title contending team on paper, the Tigers should be in the running for the SEC West division ‘til the very end. But one thing's for sure, it will be a harrowing road with trips to Gainesville, Baton Rouge and Athens. And don't forget Nick Saban's Iron Bowl debut for the regular season finale.

Head Coach:
Tommy Tuberville, 71-29 in 8 years
Offensive Coordinator: Al Borges
Defensive Coordinator: Will Muschamp

Projected Depth Chart (returning starters in bold):

QB Brandon Cox Sr.
Blake Field Jr.

RB Brad Lester Jr.
Ben Tate So.

FB Carl Stewart Sr.
Danny Perry Sr.

WR Rod Smith Jr.
Tim Hawthorne Fr.

WR Montez Billings So.
Prechae Rodriguez Jr.

TE Cole Bennett Sr.
Tommy Trott So.

RT Andrew McCain Jr.
Antwoin Daniels Jr.

RG Leon Hart Sr.
Nathan Farrow Jr.

C Jason Bosley Jr.
Mike Berry Fr.

LG Tyronne Green Jr.
Byron Isom Fr.

LT King Dunlap Sr.
Oscar Gonzalez So.

DE Quentin Groves Sr.
Antonio Coleman So.

NT Josh Thompson Sr.
Tez Doolittle Sr.

DT Pat Sims Jr.
Mike Blanc Fr.

DE Sen'Derrick Marks So.
Michael Goggans Fr.

SLB Patrick Trahan So.
Courtney Harden Jr.

MLB Merrill Johnson Jr.
Chris Evans Jr.

WLB Tray Blackmon So.
Steve Gandy Jr.

SS Eric Brock Sr.
Zac Etheridge So.

FS Aairon Savage So.
Jonathan Vickers Jr.

LCB Patrick Lee Sr.
Walter McFadden So.

RCB Jonathan Wilhite Sr.
Jerraud Powers So.

Special Teams
K Wesley Byrum Fr.

P Ryan Shoemaker Fr.

KR Tristan Davis Jr.

PR Mario Fannin Fr.

Offensive Breakdown:
Key Returners:
QB Brandon Cox, LT King Dunlap

Key Losses: WR Courtney Taylor, LG Ben Grubbs

Key Newcomers: 5* QB Kodi Burns, 4* LT Lee Ziemba

Most teams would grieve the departure of a senior running back like Kenny Irons. But with talents like Brad Lester, Ben Tate, Tristan Davis and Mario Fannin waiting in the wings, little if any drop off is anticipated from the Tiger backfield. Lester and Tate combined for nearly a thousand yards of offense despite limited touches. Davis and Fannin will contribute most on special teams but should see their share of carries as well. At quarterback, Brandon Cox returns for his third and final season. He'll need to stay healthy if the passing offense, which ranked 10th in the conference, is going to improve.

Complicating matters is the departure of Auburn's lone dependable receiver, Courtney Taylor. There are a handful of suitors for the role including Prechae Rodriguez and Rod Smith, but none have produced enough to lend a lot of confidence. The running game should provide the bulk of the offense, but they'll need to take the pressure off when things stall. The Tigers do possess an impressive group of tight ends, bolstered by the return of senior Cole Bennett after missing most of last season with an injury.

A strong point in 2006, the offensive line and replacing four of its five starters has perhaps the most questions. The bright spot is senior left tackle King Dunlap, a 6-9, 321-pound behemoth who's done an excellent job of protecting Cox's blindside. The rest are still unknown commodities and the depth chart is still very tentative going into fall practice. Regardless of how it works out, the group will have to come together quickly if the Tigers are going to maintain their trademark power running game.

Defensive Breakdown:
Key Returners:
DE Quentin Groves, WLB Tray Blackmon

Key Losses:
WLB Will Herring, LCB David Irons

Key Newcomers: 4* DE Antoine Carter, 4* SS Michael McNeil

Quentin Groves returns for his senior season as one of the premier defensive ends in the SEC and country. Alongside sophomore Sen'Derrick Marks, getting to the quarterback shouldn't be a problem for the defense. There is some concern about run-stopping, but they should be alleviated by linebackers Merrill Johnson and Tray Blackmon, a name that should evoke bad memories to most Gator fans.

The secondary has consistently been a strength for the Tigers and the 2007 edition doesn't appear to be any different. Despite the departure of All-SEC cornerback David Irons, Tuberville feels confident with veterans Jonathan Wilhite and Patrick Lee and talented underclassmen in Jerraud Powers and Walter McFadden. Safeties Eric Brock and Aairon Savage are two of the more underrated defenders in the conference.

Special Teams Breakdown:

Perhaps no team in the country has a bigger challenge replacing their specialists than the Auburn Tigers. Kicker John Vaughn and Punter Kody Bliss, both All-SEC talents, have graduated. While it's hard to quantify their impact, Bliss' booming punts often led to dramatic changes in field position and Vaughn could usually be depended on for a crucial field goal.

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