Monday, August 24, 2009

Loston Eligible; Auburn Preview


Freshman safety Craig Loston has finally been academically cleared by the NCAA and is now eligible to participate with the team. The question now becomes whether Loston is too far behind to contribute this season. He has missed most of fall camp and is way behind in trying to learn the defensive scheme. He could certainly be a contributor on special teams and perhaps see the field towards the end of the season. But is it worth using a year of eligibility for some special teams work? Or would Loston be better served taking a redshirt year? The coaches may think that Loston is a player that may one day leave early for the NFL and that there is no reason to save his eligibility. We shall see. There were also rumors that Loston required surgery for a wrist injury but since he was out at practice today, I'm assuming that isn't the case.

With Loston now at practice, that means that the entirety of the much heralded 2009 signing class is academically eligible.

But on that note, the Class of 2009 has also lost their first player. Offensive lineman Carneal Ainsworth has left the football team for now. Ainsworth is apparently going through some rough personal times due to a death in his family. It remains a bit unclear as to whether Ainsworth could re-join the team in the future.

Redshirt freshman linebacker / fullback Kellen Theriot has been missing from fall camp thus far due to an injury, but he was out there today. I really think Theriot and think he'll be a good player in due time, so it's good to hear that he's back out there.

Clay Spencer is rumored to have suffered a season ending injury. He wasn't at practice today, which lends credibility to those rumors. Spencer wasn't expected to be a major contibutor this year.

Freshman linebacker Tahj Jones continues to be out with an injury. Jones was likely headed for a redshirt this year regardless.

Defensive end Pep Levingston suffered a broken hand and was not at practice today. However, his injury isn't something that is expected to keep him off the field.


The 2009 Auburn team looks to be the weakest that I can remember this decade. We're starting to see the effects of Alabama's domination of Auburn in recruiting the state of Alabama since Nick Saban arrived prior to the 2007 season. Auburn's team simply doesn't have the stars or All-SEC candidates that we've become accustomed to over the last eight years.

The big story for this Auburn team is their new coaching staff. Most, including me, were highly unimpressed with Auburn's hire of Gene Chizik as head coach. However, Chizik made some good hires for assistant coaches, most notably offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn from Tulsa. SEC fans are familiar with Malzahn from his days as the Arkansas offensive coordinator in 2006. But SEC fans are not familiar with the offense that Malzahn likes to run. With Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, head coach Houston Nutt stuck primarily to the ground...and rightfully so. But Auburn will unleash Malzahn's true spread offense. Malzahn's version of the spread is not pass heavy like the Airraid offense at Texas Tech nor is it based on the running game like Rich Rodriguez's spread option. It relies on balance, and more important than the plays that are called is the tempo in which they are called. This entry at the Smart Football Blog details his offense pretty nicely, and it's worth a read if you're into Xs and Os.


While Malzahn coordinated the nation's #1 offense at Tulsa last year, Auburn just doesn't look to have the personnel to put together a terribly impressive unit at this point. Like any offense, Malzahn relies on the quarterback to be efficient and to make a lot of reads, even in the running game. But Auburn's QB situation is unsettled, to put it nicely. Kodi Burns (pictured), Chris Todd, and Neil Caudle all started the fall as competitors for the job. However, Burns has been moved to wide receiver and Chris Todd was named the starter. Todd started several games for Auburn last year, but a shoulder injury really prevented him from being effective. He's healthy now and reportedly looks much improved at practice. Caudle will most likely be the backup. He's a similar player to Todd in that he's not very mobile and is a pocket passer. True freshman Tyrik Rollision is an outstanding athlete, but has a long way to go as a passer. We may seem him on the field this year for some designed QB runs. If Rollison redshirts, then Burns may still see some work as a Wildcat style quarterback.

Running back is the strength of the Auburn offense, and they return some familiar names such as Ben Tate and Mario Fanin. Both are established performers at the SEC level and Fanin seems to be a bit better fit for Malzahn's spread offense. Fanin is the faster of the two and is a better receiver. At Tulsa, Malzhan used a lot of backs and had five running backs with 300 or more rushing yards. And they all averaged 6.2 yards per carry or higher. Auburn's backs are very capable, but they may struggle behind in an offense with a poor offensive line and passing game.

Auburn lacks quality receivers, especially when moving to a spread offense that generally requires 3 good ones. Montez Billings is experienced but thus far has proven to be a fairly pedestrian performer at the SEC level. Junior Tim Hawthorne is very talented but has yet to come close to fulfilling the high expectations surrounding him coming out of high school. Chris Slaughter will finally try to make an impact too. Auburn does have two very good freshman receivers that will likely see the field in Deangelo Benton and Emory Blake. They are also very solid at tight end with senior Tommy Trott and freshman Philip Lutzenkirchen.

Auburn's offensive line will really struggle. Tackle Lee Ziemba is the only guy who stands out though Chris Pugh has his moments as well. Ziemba is experienced and a pretty good player. The rest of the unit has to come a very long way in order to be considered anything but a liability.

Talent-wise, this offense is a mess. Can Gus Malzahn offset the lack of talent and make the team competitive? It will be interesting to see.


Defensively Auburn will, as always, be very tough. They have solid talent and Gene Chizik is a proven defensive coach.

The defensive line returns All-SEC player Antonio Coleman, but they lose both starting tackles from last year in Sen'Derrick Marks and Tez Doolittle. Both guys were very good players. Nick Fairley, Zach Clayton, and Jake Ricks should get the bulk of the work.

At linebacker, the oft-injured Tray Blackmon and Merrill Johnson are gone. But they do return Josh Bynes (pictured) in the middle, who is poised for a breakout season. They also return Craig Stevens, a starter a year ago. The other spot will likely be manned by junior college transfer Eltoro Freeman.

Auburn's secondary is quite good, and they return a lot of experience. Walter McFadden returns at cornerback where he led the secondary with two interceptions and eight pass break-ups in 2008. They also return both starting safeties in Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil, though McNeil is getting pushed by freshman Darren Bates. These guys are solid and more than a few SEC teams would love to have these players in their secondary.

All in all, I think we'll see improvement from Auburn but not a ton. I see them winning 6 or 7 games this year and going to a lower tier bowl game.

All-SEC Candidates:
RB Ben Tate
OL Lee Ziemba
DE Antonio Coleman
CB Walter McFadden

vs. Louisiana Tech (W)
vs. Mississippi State (W)
vs. West Virginia (L)
vs. Ball State (W)
@ Tennessee (L)
@ Arkansas (L)
vs. Kentucky (W)
@ LSU (L)
vs. Ole Miss (W)
vs. Furman (W)
@ Georgia (L)
vs. Alabama (L)


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