Preview 2008 - Offense
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What you need to
know: The offense is undergoing an overhaul of styles with
new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin stepping in and
establishing his spread attack. So who's going to run it? Former
Texas Tech Red Raider Chris Todd looks the part, but Kodi Burns
is a strong runner who showed in spring ball that ha can be an
accurate passer. The receivers are promising but young with
veteran Rodgeriqus Smith a decent No. 1 target to work with
until everyone else grows up. It's Auburn, so there's the usual
stable of great backs with two good ones in Brad Lester and Ben
Tate to go along with kick returner extraordinaire Tristan
Davis. And then there's the line, which might not just be the
team's biggest strength, it could be the best in the SEC. Not
only will it be good this year with all five starters returning,
but with a ton of depth and plenty of options, it'll be an even
better front five over the next two seasons.
Passing: Kodi Burns
10-26, 145 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Ben Tate
202 carries, 903 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Rodgeriqus Smith
52 catches, 705 yds, 5 TD
Star of the offense: Sophomore OT Lee Ziemba & Senior
OG Tyronne Green
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB
Kodi Burns and junior QB Chris Todd
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Terrell Zachery
Best pro prospect: Green
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Green, 2) Ziemba, 3) RB
Strength of the offense: Offensive line, running backs
Weakness of the offense:
Projected Starter: While he's not going to throw
for 4,000 yards and he's built more like a tailback than a
quarterback, 6-1, 205-pound Kodi Burns is a fantastic
spread offense prospect who should do wonders in the new attack.
The sophomore saw a little bit of time throughout last season
completing just ten of 26 passes for 145 yards and two
touchdowns with an interception, but he ran for 203 yards and
three scores in his limited time and was the star of the Chick-fil-A
Bowl win over Clemson with 69 yards and the game-winning
touchdown in overtime to go along with a 22-yard touchdown pass,
his only completion in four attempts. He'll need some seasoning,
and a lot of it, but if everyone is willing to be patient he
could turn out to be a star.
Projected Top Reserves: Texas Tech transfer
Chris Todd isn't exactly the ideal spread offense
quarterback, but the 6-4, 212-pound junior is mobile, but not
Kodi Burns mobile, and is the team's best passing option. A
banged up shoulder limited him this spring and didn't allow him
to make a real run at the starting job. At the moment he's the
co-No. 1 on the depth chart along with Burns, and the two could
rotate depending on the situation. He's a passer who can run the
spread like the Red Raiders do and can provide a different look.
Neil Caudle is a pure-passer
who was a top recruit for the program two years ago. He's still
trying to find a spot in the rotation, and is the No. 3 going
into the season, but he has the arm and the potential to fit
perfectly into the passing side of the offense.
True freshman DeRon Furr can do a little of everything. A
great all-around athlete and a decent passer, he has the 6-3,
217-pound size and the running skills to eventually grow into a
devastating weapon. He needs time and he needs work, and he'll
get it. He likely won't see the field in meaningful action until
Watch Out For ... Todd. In a perfect
world, Burns could be the type of accurate short to midrange
passer who keeps defenses on their toes so he can run wild.
That's not going to happen. Instead, there's a chance Todd turns
into the main man with Burns the change of pace, and not the
other way around.
Strength: A potential rotation. While Tony Franklin would like to wing it
around, the versatility of the offense will cater to the
quarterback. Burns isn't the passer that Todd is, and
Todd isn't the runner Burns is.
Weakness: Full-season experience. While Todd and Burns are
promising, neither one has had to be the man. The SEC usually
chews up and spits out young, inexperienced quarterbacks, and
these two will have to take their lumps before they start to
Outlook: It might take a little while, and there
will be moments when the offense goes absolutely nowhere, but
eventually the combination of Todd and Burns should
give defensive coordinators nightmares. Of course it would be
nice to have one leader to build around, but if these two can
find and create a niche, the Auburn offense should be tough to
prepare for. Consistency is going to be the key early on. There
will be mistakes, but they have to be kept to a minimum.
Projected Starters: The backfield might be crowded
with talent and options, but 5-11, 194-pound senior Brad
Lester should be the best of the bunch if he can stay on the
field. He finished second on the team with 530 yards and three
touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, despite missing the
first five games of the year due to academic issues. He didn't
come up with a breakout performance, but he was solid over the
second half of the season with a great burst through the line.
He's a home-run hitter who hit a lot of doubles, while his
kickoff return production struggled, too.
Projected Top Reserves: Brad Lester might be first
on the depth chart, but junior Ben Tate is No. 1A. The
5-11, 215-pound junior led the team with 903 yards and eight
touchdowns scoring once in each of the last four games. While he
didn't get too much work heaped upon him once Lester came back,
he was extremely productive getting the ball 10-to-15 times a
game and showed good hands as a receiver. He averaged 4.5 yards
per carry after averaging 7.3 yards per pop two years ago, and
can provide a burst in the rotation.
5-10, 210-pound senior Tristan Davis never got going last
season after suffering a toe and foot injuries. An elite kickoff
returner who averaged 27 yards per try in 2006, he was never
right all year and wasn't used as a runner after moving over
from safety. He's a great all-around athlete and a tremendous
speedster who'll add even more quickness to the mix.
Watch Out For ... the rushing offense to continue
to shine. The new offense will place more of an emphasis
on throwing the ball, but Auburn's bread has always been
buttered by the ground attack. The backs will just be used a
little differently now.
Strength: Speed and quickness. The Tigers have three backs who
all do about the same thing and all have a burst. There wasn't a
lot of home-run hitting last year, but in the new offense there
should be more creases and more spaces to run through.
Weakness: Power. The Tigers were just fine last year without a
banger between the tackles, and while Lester and Tate aren't
afraid to run inside, there isn't a sure-thing short-yardage
thumper to rely on.
Outlook: Lester and Tate can produce, and
Davis is a dangerous option.
interesting to see how the rotation works if it's running
quarterback Kodi Burns under center as opposed to passer Chris
Todd. How will the backs be used? Will one emerge more as a
receiver? Will one "get it" faster than the other two and turn
into a killer with space to move through? It's Auburn, so there
will always be production. It'll just come in a different way.
Projected Starters: Alright
Rodgeriqus Smith, it's time to blow up. The 6-0,
196-pound former walk-on might be a tad limited when it comes to
his overall talent and he might not be the ideal No. 1 target,
but he led the team last year with 52 catches for 705 yards and
five touchdowns, was by far the team's best receiver, and he finds
ways to make big plays. Extremely steady and durable with 26
straight starts, he has always been a productive and reliable
player. Now that he's in a potentially high-octane passing
offense, depending on who's at quarterback, and at the outside Z
position, he'll see plenty of single coverage and he'll have to
use his experience to take advantage.
One of the biggest surprises in spring ball was the emergence of
6-0, 178-pound senior James Swinton, a little-used backup
who'll get the prime outside X spot to be used as a deep threat.
So far he's been good for one catch a year over his first three
seasons despite seeing time in 20 games. Arguably the team's
fastest player, now he'll get to show off his wheels. In this
offense, he has the potential to be a breakout superstar in his
Sophomore Tim Hawthorne has tremendous potential and a
world of upside playing on the inside, but first he has to get
healthy after breaking his arm this spring. He's a big 6-3,
209-pound talent with the size and body to be a matchup
nightmare on the inside. He caught four passes for 47 yards last
season and will now be a key player in the slot.
6-0, 178-pound senior Robert Dunn, a former Georgia Mr.
Football, is a little used career backup despite
finishing third on the team with 19 catches for 211 yards and
two touchdowns. He made his biggest mark as a punt returner.
Both his receiving scores came against Tennessee Tech and he
didn't do much in the regular season, but he caught five passes
for 39 yards against Clemson and should be used far more as the
fourth receiver in the set.
When the Tigers use a tight end it'll be 6-5, 251-pound junior
Tommy Trott moving into the starting spot vacated by Cole
Bennett. Trott made four catches for 34 yards used mostly as a
blocker, which he improved on throughout the season. He was a freshman
all-star making ten catches for 94 yards and two scores, and now
he should build on his promise in the new offense. Expect him to
be used far more often after getting in better shape.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 188-pound junior
Montez Billings finished second on the team with 28 catches
for 321 yards and a touchdown, but he'll be a backup behind
Rodgeriqus Smith on the outside to start. One of the team's
fastest players winning the Alabama state high school 200-meter
dash in 2004 with a time of 21.74, he needs to do more to use
his wheels as a deep threat averaging just 11.5 yards per grab.
Out last year with academic issues, 6-1, 208-pound sophomore
Terrell Zachery appears ready to shine after a big spring.
While Robert Dunn has the starting job at one of the inside
spots, Zachary could end up being a better fit with his big
frame and good strength. He set the Alabama high school record
with 4,672 career receiving yards and was a big recruit for the
program a few years ago. Now he appears ready to blossom.
Moving from running back to receiver is the speedy Mario
Fannin, a 5-11, 217-pound jitterbug who finished third on
the team in rushing with 448 yards and five touchdowns, and was
fourth in receiving catching 19 passes for 176 yards and two
scores. He'll start out behind Tim Hawthorne, but he could be in
the starting mix once he gets healthy. He missed time throughout
spring ball with a separated shoulder but will be fine for the
start of the season.
Is Chris Slaughter ready to be a player? One of last
year's top recruits caught just three passes for 19 yards in a
reserve role but has the skills to eventually become the team's
No. 1 target. Academics have been a problem, and he was passed
by, surprisingly, but James Swinton on the depth chart, but the
bar is set high; he's expected to be special.
6-4, 253-pound junior Gabe McKenzie has been a nice-sized
target over the last two seasons with 26 catches for 254 yards
and three touchdowns. A good athlete who can stretch the field,
he's more than just a big blocker who can move the chains; he
can be a weapon if used a bit more.
Watch Out For ... a steady, weekly change in the
depth chart. There are several interesting options who'll flow
in and out of the lineup depending on the matchup and the need.
From two tight end sets to four-wide formations, the Tigers have
the players to mess around with the combination.
Strength: Potential. From Zachery to Billings to Carr to
Slaughter to Fannin, there are a ton of young players who should grow into the new offense.
Weakness: The corps could be a work in progress. Auburn isn't
used to getting mega-production from its receivers, and
considering the No. 1 target is Smith, and the No. 2
target last year, Billings, had just 28 grabs, there's work to
Outlook: This is hardly the weakness it appeared
it might be going into last season with a limitless talent base
to develop. There's a good veteran in Smith to
provide a steady go-to guy, but it's the youngsters,
particularly Zachery and Hawthorne, who show the
biggest upside. Watch out for one of the unheralded young
players to blow up and for the corps to get better and better by
Projected Starters: Five
starters return to the line with the new star 6-8, 297-pound sophomore
Lee Ziemba, a CFN Freshman All-American after starting every game
at right tackle as a true frosh and turning into an impressive pass
blocker who got better by the week. A superstar recruit, he lived up to
all the preseason hype and billing, and now he'll move over to the left
side where he'll be the anchor of the line for the next three seasons.
He might not maul anyone, but he'll give the quarterback time to work.
Next to Ziemba will by Tyronne Green, a 6-2, 307-pound senior who
stepped in to replace all-star Ben Grubbs and was fantastic. The former
defensive tackle wasn't Grubbs, but he was a tough, physical blocker who
now has the potential to become an All-America star. He'll be the one
the offense works behind for the tough yards.
Center Jason Bosley started every game last year, and while he's
not going to make any all-star teams, he doesn't make mistakes and will
be a steady middle man for the changing offense. Even at a relatively
rangy 6-4 and 281 pounds, he's a mauler for the ground game. No,
he's not the line's most talented player, but he's the leader.
6-4, 290-pound sophomore Chaz Ramsey was hurt throughout spring
ball with a bum back but will be the starter at right guard to start the
year. He took over in the fourth game of the season and never looked
back. A surprise as a true freshman, he was surprisingly durable and
held up well in SEC play. Unfortunately, he's most remembered for the
questionable chop block on LSU DT Glenn Dorsey's knee.
6-4, 284-pound sophomore Ryan Pugh combined with King Dunlap to
start at left tackle last season and could step in at center if needed.
This year he'll start at right tackle with Lee Ziemba moving to the
left, and he should be far more comfortable. He's not the pass blocker
Ziemba is, but he's a good run blocker who toughed it out despite a leg
injury. He'll be a fixture for the next three seasons, but his home will
eventually be in the middle once center Jason Bosley graduates.
Projected Top Reserves: If Chaz Ramsey has any
more problems with the back that limited him this spring, it'll be up to
6-3, 291-pound sophomore Byron Isom to step in at right guard
after looking good this off-season. He didn't see too much time as a
redshirt freshman, but he appeared to improve by leaps and bounds in
Redshirt freshman Jared Cooper isn't going to replace
Lee Ziemba at left tackle, but he was good enough this
off-season to be counted on as a dependable backup at left
tackle. He has decent size at 6-4 and 297 pounds with good
agility, but he could eventually move over to right tackle when
and if Ryan Pugh moves to center.
6-3, 313-pound sophomore Mike Berry is one of the
team's biggest and most promising lineman. Athletic enough to
see time at tackle after slimming down a bit, he'll start out
the season behind Ryan Pugh on the outside. He could also step
in at center as a bigger option in the rotation. Even so, he's
most suited for guard, even though he won't see much time there
after starting the first three games on the right side last
year. He struggled early on, but he made a big jump in his
consistency during spring ball and could eventually grow into a
special all-around tackle if he gets more time to work.
Watch Out For ... the line to potentially be the
team's biggest strength. With five good returning starters and
plenty of developing depth, the Tigers should have an advantage
Strength: A mix of talents. This is a versatile line with
several players able to move around if needed, but it's not like
there are clones. From the big pounder in guard Tyronne Green to
tough technicians like Lee Ziemba and Ryan Pugh, many of the
players look the same size but don't necessarily play that way.
That's a good thing.
Weakness: Not much. To nitpick, the overall pass protection
could stand to be a bit better and while there's experience with
five starters returning, three sophomores are still three
sophomores. There's still going to be a wee bit more of an
adjustment period, especially with the new offense.
Outlook: The line was a year ahead of schedule.
This season was supposed to be when all the top recruits were
supposed to be ready for primetime, but they got their work in
last year and should be ready to hit the ground running. The
left side, with Ziemba and Green should be devastating, while
the rest of the line isn't bad, either. Green and Bosley are seniors, but there's
no one older than a sophomore on the rest of the depth chart.
Not only is the line loaded for this year, but it should only
get better over the next two seasons.