After the worst performance by an Auburn football team in more than half a century, the Tigers head into the 2013 season with a new coaching staff and different looks on offense and defense.
Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator for the 2010 team that posted a
14-0 mark on the way to winning the national championship, has returned as the head coach after spending the 2012 season directing his own program at Arkansas State. Malzahn has inherited a lot of experienced players on both sides of the line of scrimmage, however, he also is taking over a team that won just three games last season.
Not surprisingly, the head coach brought in his right-hand man to direct the offense, Rhett Lashlee, a 29-year-old rising star in the coaching business, someone Malzahn has worked with going back to their days in Arkansas high school football. One of Lashlee's assignments is to upgrade the quarterback play, which was substandard last year, while installing Malzahn's up-tempo, no-huddle attack.
The 2012 Tigers were rebuilding on offense and early struggles were expected, but the group never got its act together. More surprisingly, the defense struggled after bringing Brian VanGorder back to college from the NFL?ranks as the coordinator. His defenders were equal partners in Auburn's 2012 failures.
Malzahn brought in a proven SEC coordinator, Ellis Johnson, to run the defensive show. With that move the team is switching from a 4-3 alignment to Johnson's 4-2-5, which features a rover the Tigers are calling their "star."
If any player on defense played like a star in the spring it was junior Justin Garrett, who made the move to the new position from outside linebacker and was a natural in the role.
Another key defender is 6-2, 246 Dee Ford, a quick and athletic end, who is one of five seniors on the two-deep depth chart for the front four.
In spring drills the secondary drew praise from the coaches, who like the potential of the cornerback group led by senior Chris Davis.
Junior safety Jermaine Whitehead also was a standout in the spring.
The big question on offense is who will emerge as the top quarterback.
Junior Kiehl Frazier, who opened the 2012 season as the starter, ended spring drills as the co-No. 1 with sophomore Jonathan Wallace, who finished last season as the starter. Both improved in the spring, but face challenges from a trio of signees--juco transfer Nick Marshall and incoming freshmen Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith.
The Tigers look solid at running back with 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason, a junior, sharing top billing on the depth chart with juco transfer Cameron Artis-Payne, the offensive MVP of the spring game, and speedy junior Corey Grant. Senior fullback/H-back Jay Prosch, an outstanding blocker, looks like a future pro.
Reese Dismukes, a junior who is a two-year starter at center, should be one of the top linemen in the SEC. Other returning offensive line starters include sophomore tackles Greg Robinson and Patrick Miller plus junior guard Chad Slade.
The Tigers must replace standout wide receiver Emory Blake, but have promising candidates such as juniors Jaylon Denson and Quan Bray plus sophomores Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis.
The kicking game, the team's strength last year, should be solid with proven seniors Cody Parkey (kickoffs, field goals) and Steven Clark (punter) back as potential All-SEC performers.
2013 SEC Football Preview: Auburn
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