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Auburn is in a rebuilding phase under Gene Chizik and the question War Eagle fans want answered is how long will it take to rebuild the program?

Snapshot

 

Auburn Tigers

2008 record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC, T-4th East)

Head Coach: Gene Chizik (1st year; 5-19 overall, 2 years)

Returning Starters: 16: 7 offense, 7 defense, kicker, punter

Leaders on Each Side: Offense: C, Ryan Pugh Defense: DE, Antonio Coleman

 

Tommy Tuberville will not roam the sidelines of the Southeastern Conference this season, resigning after a 5-7 finish at Auburn last fall. Gene Chizik, the defensive coordinator for the Tigers from 2002-2004, was brought in from Iowa State to be the new skipper.

 

Upon first reaction, the Auburn faithful were disappointed. Athletics Director Jay Jacobs was supposed to make a knockdown hire, instead pulling Chizik – who had compiled a 5-19 record in two years with the Cyclones, never winning more than three games in a single season.

 

Yet, after a hot run on the recruiting trails – highlighted by the Auburn staff being in the thick of the race for much of the South’s top talent – and a successful spring on the field, fans are beginning to move into Chizik’s corner.

 

Come Saturdays, however, the Tigers will need improvement. The quarterback play has been inconsistent and the defensive unit is inexperienced – losing nine starters from 2008. Eventually, the cards should fall in line, and with the emergence of a couple of playmakers and good health on gameday, Auburn will fight to join Ole Miss, LSU and Alabama atop the SEC West. It just will not be this year.

 

Quarterback

 

Kodi Burns – 6’2”, 209, Jr.

Neil Caudle – 5’11”, 217, Jr.

 

Gus Malzahn is running the offense for the Tigers in 2009, which means that success will depend on quickness under center.

 

Kodi Burns, who played in ten games with seven starts during his sophomore campaign, is back as the leading man. Going over 400 yards on the ground in split duty last fall, the Arkansas-native surely has the legs to be Malzahn’s man.

 

Neil Caudle, who has seen action in three games since he joined the team in 2006, is the second man out if things go south.

 

Running Back

 

Ben Tate – 5’11”, 217, Sr.

Mario Fannin – 5’11”, 226, Jr.

 

After rushing for a team-high 664 yards and three touchdowns in 2008, Ben Tate is back for his senior campaign. While the Maryland-native only logged two starts last fall, he finished sixth in the SEC in rushing yards per game (55.3).

 

Mario Fannin, who totaled 709 all-purpose yards last season, will move into the number two spot for Malzahn. Fannin played in all 12 games for Auburn last fall, where he logged three starts.

 

Wide Receivers and Tight End

 

Montez Billings – 6’2”, 184, Sr.

Tim Hawthorne – 6’3”, 214, Jr.

Darvin Adams – 6’3”, 184, So.

Terrell Zachery – 6’1”, 209, Jr.

 

Tommy Trott – 6’5”, 237, Sr.

 

The struggles at wide receiver during Tuberville’s final years were well documented. Last fall, no receiver pulled in more than two touchdowns and only Rod Smith – who is lost to graduation – went over 300 receiving yards.

 

Montez Billings, Tim Hawthorne and Terrell Zachary are the experienced men of the bunch. The production of newcomers – such as DeAngelo Benton – will be the wild card of the equation.

 

Tight end Tommy Trott, who is recovering from knee surgery, caught 20 passes for 201 yards in 2008.

 

Offensive Line

 

Lee Ziemba – 6’8”, 304, Jr.

Mike Berry – 6’3”, 313, Jr.

Ryan Pugh – 6’4”, 280, Jr.

Byron Isom – 6’3”, 293, Jr.

Andrew McCain – 6’6”, 295, Sr.

 

Ryan Pugh, arguably the SEC’s top center, will be the strength of the line. Lee Ziemba is back at left tackle, and the junior should perform as one of the conference’s best.

 

Byron Isom, who played in eight games with seven starts in 2008, is back at right guard. During his sophomore run, the Georgia-native recorded 12.5 pancake blocks.

 

Andrew McCain, who played in all 12 games last fall, will get his first start at right tackle.

 

Defensive Line

 

Antonio Coleman – 6’3”, 257, Sr.

Mike Blanc – 6’4”, 288, Jr.

Jake Ricks – 6’4”, 296, Sr.

Michael Goggans – 6’3”, 257, Jr.

 

Two defensive line starters are gone, leaving defensive ends Antonio Coleman and Michael Goggans to carry the weight. The pair combined for 76 tackles and six sacks last fall.

 

The questions will be in the middle, where Mike Blanc and Jake Ricks will likely get the start. Blanc finished with 27 tackles in 2008, while Ricks logged seven stops.

 

Antoine Carter, who recorded 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks last fall, will be another name to watch off the edge.

 

Linebackers

 

Craig Stevens – 6’3”, 227, Jr.

Eltoro Freeman – 5’11”, 222, So.

Josh Bynes – 6’2, 233, Jr.

 

Craig Stevens, who started at strong side for Tuberville, will be one of defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s biggest tools. On the weak side, sophomore Eltoro Freeman should get the starting nod.

 

Josh Bynes, who started in eight of the ten games he played in last fall, is the final piece to the puzzle, while Da’Shaun Barnes, Spencer Pybus and Marcus Jemison will all see action.

 

Defensive Backs

 

Walter McFadden – 6’0”, 176, Sr.

Neiko Thorpe – 6’2”, 182, So.

Mike McNeil – 6’2”, 205, Jr.

Zac Etheridge – 6’0”, 204, Jr.

 

Walter McFadden, who started in all 12 games of his junior campaign in 2008, led the team with eight pass break-ups. The senior finished 12th in the SEC in passes defended per game (0.83).

 

Neiko Thorpe, who played in 11 games with one start en route to All-SEC Freshman Team honors last fall, will get the start at the other cornerback spot.

 

Mike McNeil and Zac Etheridge pair up as the Tiger safeties, the team’s two leading tacklers in 2008. McNeil, a Mobile-native, logged a team-high 42 solo stops. Etheridge, who started all 12 games at safety during his sophomore campaign, finished 17 in the SEC in tackles per game (6.2).

 

Special Teams

 

Wes Byrum – 6’2”, 214, Jr.

Clinton Durst – 6’1”, 192, Jr.

 

Wes Byrum was not too good in 2008 – hitting on just 11-of-19 field goals, highlighted by a string of misses that heavily swayed the tide of the game. The junior will need to be back to his 2007 ways if he wants to carry the unit.

 

Clinton Durst, who finished fifth in the SEC with a 42.1 yard per game average, will handle the punting duties once more.


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