Pre-Spring Offseason Forecast: Auburn

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With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Auburn.

What’s changing

The better question may be “what’s not changing?” Everything is changing this spring for the players and the program. After suffering through the worst season since 1998 (which happened to be the worst season in Auburn history), there’s new blood, motivation and leadership in Gus Malzahn. And Malzahn put together just a stellar staff, headlined by defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, defensive line coach and recruiting ace Rodney Garner and co-offensive coordinator and former Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig. This staff is talented, proven and successful and can recruit as well or better than any staff in the country. Auburn AD Jay Jacobs targeted Malzahn from the beginning, and he landed his man who will lead his program for the next several years.

Position of concern

Malzahn’s job is to resurrect one of the worst offenses in the country. In fact, the Tigers finished 118th in total offense out of 124 teams. That starts with the quarterback, and he only has two on campus to work with in returners Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. Frazier looked shell-shocked last season and was eventually benched for Clint Moseley. After Moseley couldn’t bust a grape, Gene Chizik started Wallace, who looked somewhat promising. The good news is that Malzahn recruited both, and he’ll further his intimate knowledge of each player this spring. Frazier and Wallace will get first look before dual-threat stars Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson hit campus this summer. This position will be much better in 2013.

Emerging spring player prediction

We’ve been waiting on receiver Sammie Coates to emerge as a star, and it’s finally time. With the lack of a vertical passing game in 2012 hindering any type of receiver development, Coates only caught six passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-2, 200-pound rising sophomore will emerge as the talk of the spring now that Emory Blake is gone and a more explosive offense has hit town. Sammie Coats, y’all.

Three signees to be excited about

1. Ben Bradley, DT: Early enrollee Bradley will bring immediate run-stopping ability to the teeth of the Tigers’ defense. Auburn finished 100th in the country in run defense and allowed nearly 200 yards per game. Bradley will be a welcomed sight come fall.

2. Cameron Artis-Payne, RB: Malzahn’s flashy offense is led by a productive rushing attack. And with only Tre Mason returning as a primary ball carrier, Artis-Payne will be a difference maker. The JUCO star is physically ready to take the pounding at 212 pounds and has a eerily similar build to Michael Dyer.

3. Carl Lawson, DE: With so much talk surrounding Robert Nkemdiche as the No. 1 overall prospect in the country, several thought Carl Lawson certainly had an argument as well. Lawson is a boss at defensive end, and he will be a great one for Malzahn and Johnson to build their defense around for the future.

What needs to improve?

The ugliest facet to one of the country’s worst defenses in ’12 was their inability to tackle. From defensive linemen to linebackers and then into the secondary, this group couldn’t tackle…at all. Co-defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and fellow co-coordinator Charlie Harbison will harp on the little things such as form tackling and tackling in space. It sounds so simple, but it was so horribly awful last season. The little things…the little things.

Previous Offseason Forecasts:

Photo Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

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