How will the 2011 Auburn football team stack up against the 2010 national champions. Most pundits say not very well.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
To be sure, the Tigers aren’t likely to have anyone on the level of quarterback Cam Newton, defensive tackles Nick Fairley Zach Clayton, offensive tackle Lee Ziemba or wide receiver Darvin Adams. And they’ll be short on experience.
But, believe it or not, they could be better at some positions than they were last season. Let’s take a look:
Weaker. Regardless of whether Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley or Kiehl Frazier is the starting quarterback, this one is obvious. You might have seen the best college quarterback you’ll ever see in Cam Newton.
Stronger. Mike Dyer is back for his second season and Onterio McCalebb for his third. They should be better this season than last.
Undecided. Eric Smith will certainly be missed, but he had just one carry. If hulking redshirt freshman Ladarious Phillips is healthy, he could be a force. Don't underestimate walk-on senior Chris Humphries, either. Philip Lutzenkirchen will play this position, too.
[b]Weaker. Auburn might actually put more talent on the field this season in the likes of Trovon Reed, DeAngelo Benton, Emory Blake and friends. But they have to prove that can match the production of Darvin Adams, Terrell Zachery and Kodi Burns.
Stronger. Lutzenkirchen will get my vote as the preseason all-SEC tight end.
Weaker. Brandon Moseley returns after starting 10 games last season at right tackle and should be better. But you don’t easily replace an All-American like Lee Ziemba, though A.J. Greene could be a real key up front if he’s healthy.
Weaker. I expect Jared Cooper and John Sullen to be better than many expect, but Byron Isom and Mike Berry were one of the top combos in the SEC if not the nation.
Weaker. Whether the starter is sophomore Blake Burgess or true freshman Reese Dismukes, replacing four-year starter Ryan Pugh will be a tall order.
Stronger. Sophomore Nosa Eguae returns for his second season as a starter. Though the experience of Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans will be missed, Corey Lemonier, Dee Ford and Craig Sanders bring plenty of talent.
Weaker. Sophomores Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter have all-star talent, but precious little experience. They could be backed up by two freshmen in Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright. By the time they are seniors, they might be at the level of Nick Fairley, Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc. But they’re not seniors.
Undecided. Jonathan Evans, Daren Bates and Eltoro Freeman will be good ones, but the loss of Craig Stevens will be felt.
Stronger. T’Sharvan Bell was one of the SEC’s best by the end of last season. Chris Davis, Ryan White and Jonathan Mincy have superior talent.
Undecided. Senior Neiko Thorpe has moved from cornerback to his more natural position and could have a big year. Sophomore Demetruce McNeal has all the tools. Walk-on junior Ikeem Means and walk-on redshirt freshman Trent Fisher could get into the mix, along with incoming freshmen Erique Florence and Robensen Therezie. The experience and savvy of Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil won’t be easily replace.
Weaker. It isn’t certain yet whether Cody Parkey or Chandler Brooks will be the man. Whoever it is will have a giant hole to fill. Wes Byrum was one of the toughest kickers I’ve covered.
Undecided. Steven Clark was the starter for most of last season before losing the job to senior Ryan Shoemaker.
The Tigers look to be stronger at two positions on offense and weaker at five with one undecided. On defense, they look to be stronger at two positions and weaker at two positions with two positions undecided. On special teams, they appear weaker at one position with the other undecided.
Add it up and, overall, the Tigers look stronger at four positions and weaker at eight positions with four undecided.
That could all change, of course. Neither Newton nor Fairley was a preseason All-SEC choice last season, and we saw what happened. Some players will certainly be better than anticipated. Some probably won’t be as good as anticipated.
Two weeks from today, all of them will officially report for preseason practice.