Published July 23, 2011 - 8:09am
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Much has been said, and much has been written, about all of the departures from the reigning national champions’ roster this season. Never in the history of preseason polls can I remember a returning champion being regarded as lightly as Auburn has been this year. Is Auburn really going to be that bad in 2011? I may be an eternal optimist, but I see far too much talent on this team for Auburn to be as bad as many are claiming, or hoping in most cases.
The biggest shoes to fill on offense, and the entire team for that matter, is at quarterback. How do you replace a player like Cam Newton? The answer is simple. You don’t. That doesn’t mean the position will be a weakness this year. It only means the position will be filled by someone with different talents than Newton had. Don’t think for a second that whoever Coach Malzahn eventually picks as his starter will not be able of moving this team and putting up impressive numbers.
Coach Malzahn is as good an offensive coordinator s you’ll find in the college game. He has never had the luxury of returning a starting quarterback in his six years as an offensive coordinator. In those six seasons, every quarterback he has tutored and prepared an offense around, has flourished, and before Cam Newton, he has never had a quarterback with extraordinary talents. Even though no one knows at this time who the signal caller will be for Auburn, I have full confidence in whichever quarterback Coach Malzahn eventually selects.
Possibly the one position on offense with the fewest question marks is also the thinnest. Cam Newton took a lot of pressure off of the running game in 2010, and it’s doubtful the new quarterback will do the same in 2011. Michael Dyer was brought along slowly in 2010, but by the end of the season, he was arguably the best running back in the conference. He has the power to run inside and the speed to hit the outside. Look for the BCS Championship game MVP to carry a much larger portion of the load on offense this season. Complementing Dyer again this season will be Onterrio McCalebb. McCalebb is always one step away from breaking any play for a touchdown, regardless of where you are on the field.
None of the speed or strength at tailback, or offensive schemes, matters much though, unless you have someone who can open holes for you, or protect you from the rush. Though Auburn officially only returns one starter on the offensive line, they have two returning players who have started before for the Tigers, several others with game experience, plus two consecutive top five recruiting classes at the position. This is possibly Auburn’s deepest, most talented position of the entire team. The key for 2010 won’t be finding players capable of doing the job, but finding the right chemistry.
This brings us to another position which saw a lot of turnover at the end of the 2010 season, but also another position that is deep in players and talent. Darvin Adams is probably the player who will be the hardest to replace. He had the best hands on the team, and was the best at making the clutch catches in 2010. The go-to player in 2010 may come from the rank of tight end, as Philip Lutzenkirchen has proven capable of making the clutch catches. Emory Blake was coming into his own towards the middle of last season. There’s one player who has the potential of being a game breaker at wide receiver, Trovon Reed. Reed is not only a difference maker catching the ball and advancing it in the open field, but he was being considered as the backup to Kodi Burns at the Wildcat position last season before an injury forced him to redshirt.
There are a lot of questions to be answered, but none of the questions revolve around the talent that Auburn has at any position, but the experience. It may take Auburn a few games to gel as an offensive unit, but by mid-season, they should be a very dangerous opponent for anyone on their schedule.