Line – There’s no doubt Gene Chizik is concerned about his offensive line depth heading into the offseason. Auburn lost center Jason Bosley and guard Tyronne Green to graduation in 2008 and aside from returning starters Ryan Pugh (who moves over to center) and Lee Ziemba, there isn’t much in the way of star power up front. Auburn will need their underclassmen (A.J. Green, Jared Cooper) as well as rising junior Bart Eddins and rising senior Andrew McCain to step up. Don’t be surprised if a couple of true freshmen, like Andre Harris or John Sullen, get serious looks in the fall.
Tight Ends/Receivers – Seniors Gabe McKenzie and Tommy Trott return as the defacto depth chart toppers at tight end, but recruiting czars across the nation were all agog at incoming freshman Phillip Lutzenkirchen, a 6-4, 245 lb., target with 4.73 speed. The wideout corps., which struggled collectively last season, returns the likes of Tim Hawthorne, Montez Billings, Terrell Zachery and Phillip Pierre-Louis (who the coaches loved before a preseason knee injury shut him down). Don’t forget also the addition of highly touted true freshmen Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton, two out-of-state kids that the Tigers landed on signing day earlier this year.
Backfield – Auburn’s strength this season appears to be at running back, with Ben Tate, Mario Fannin, Eric Smith and Onterio McCalebb all on board in 2009. In fact, it’s a shame the offense of old isn’t the offense of today, because the Tigers could certainly have success pounding it between the tackles. How much of a role these four backs will have in the new Gus Malzahn spread offense remains to be seen, but look for the back with the best hands (as in catching the ball out of the backfield) to play the lead in 2009.
Quarterback – Neil Caudle or Kodi Burns? If that is the question, then Caudle’s superior spring performance should be the answer. But what about Chris Todd? Was his shoulder the real reason he couldn’t get any zip on his throws, or does he have other issues? How about this Tyrik Rollison kid, the highly touted recruit out of Sulpher Springs, Texas? Could he make a run for the job in the fall? Who knows? The loss of Barrett Trotter to a preseason knee injury, Burns’ spring collapse and the relative unknown of what Todd and Rollison can bring to the table makes Caudle the starter by default. For now, that is.
Line – Sen’Derrick Marks and Tez Doolittle are both gone, leaving Antonio Coleman and Michael Goggans to anchor the defensive front. New defensive coordinator Ted Roof figures to run a 4-3 predominantly, good news considering Coleman’s talent at end. However, the Tigers will need someone to step up at nose guard, most likely Mike Blanc, who played behind Doolittle last season. Jake Ricks, listed as the No. 2 tackle behind Marks last season, will likely take Marks’ place in 2009 as a senior.
Linebackers – Auburn returns all three starters from last year at linebacker: outside guys Craig Stevens and Chris Evans and Josh Bynes in the middle. Adam Herring should see an expanded role in his sophomore campaign. The Tigers also signed an impressive crop of linebackers earlier this season, including Harris Gaston and Eltoro Freeman, who might see a little early playing time in the new defensive scheme.
Defensive backfield – Auburn struggled last season to overcome injuries in the defensive backfield, losing Aairon Savage before the first game of the season. The trend continues this year as Mike McNeil, Zac Etheridge and Mike Slade were all banged up in the spring. Providing those three can get healthy in time for the fall, and Savage returns full-speed from his knee injury, the Tigers should have a strong unit. Walter McFadden, a senior, will anchor the right corner position, while Savage will likely replace the departed Jerraud Powers on the left side.
Auburn returns place kicker Wes Byrum and punter Clinton Durst in 2009, but loses long snapper Robert Shiver and punt returner Robert Dunn. Mario Fannin, who served as the primary kickoff return specialist last season, might be called upon to move into Dunn’s old position. Josh Harris was the backup snapper in 2008, and figures to move into the starting role this season.