Top five priorities for AuburnPublished 10:46am Wednesday, August 7, 2013
By Andy Graham
The Auburn Tigers will don full pads this week, and true preparation for the upcoming 2013 season will begin.
After a nightmarish 2012, there’s an exceedingly long list of priorities on the agenda for Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff.
Quite frankly, the Tigers could stand to improve in every single aspect remotely possible, but here are the top five priorities in descending order of importance for Auburn moving toward two-a-days.
No. 5: Avoid injuries – Bumps, bruises, and twisted ankles are all apart of football and cannot be avoided.
However, major injuries during preseason camp can be devastating to a team with serious holes to fill and a fragile ego.
The Tigers lost promising defensive end Keymiya Harrell during spring drills to a knee injury and veteran safety Demetruce McNeal has been gimpy to begin fall practice.
Auburn definitely needs all hands on deck.
No. 4: Build defensive depth – The Tigers return every starter and backup at defensive tackle in 2013.
That’s good as far as experience is concerned, but judging by their production from last year it’s debatable whether that’s good news or not.
Auburn has been thin at linebacker for a couple of years and now finds itself a little thin at safety.
Ellis Johnson and crew must find out quickly if junior college transfers like linebacker Kenny Flowers, safety Brandon King and defensive tackle Ben Bradley will be able to provide immediate depth or if true freshman like defensive end Carl Lawson, defensive tackle Montravius Adams and safety Khari Harding will have to be counted on to contribute.
No. 3: Establish second-string STAR – Junior LB Justin Garrett was the star (pun intended) of spring practice when he was moved to Ellis Johnson’s hybrid position, known as the STAR.
The position is a cross between safety and linebacker which requires cover skills and enough speed to cover sideline to sideline.
It’s the most important position on the field if the 4-2-5 defense is functioning properly.
Highly talented and underused Robenson Therezie has emerged as a backup to Garrett, but other challengers need to emerge.
No. 2: Name offensive line rotation – Junior center Reese Dismukes has redeemed himself in 2013 after his indiscretion last year and has become a team leader.
Redshirt sophomore left tackle Greg Robinson is also back and holding down his tackle spot, but the rest of the line is up for grabs.
Junior guard Chad Slade also looks to be a strong contender to start, but he’ll have to fight off a challenge from some underclassmen.
The Tigers need to establish a starting five rotation as soon as possible in order to build chemistry and confidence.
No. 1: Find a starting quarterback – Four men enter 2013 with a chance to win the starting job (junior Nick Marshall, junior Kiehl Frazier, sophomore Jonathon Wallace and freshman Jeremy Johnson).
So many of Auburn’s problems last year could be traced back to poor quarterback play and if there is any hope for improvement in 2013 that will have to change.
With each man getting a clean slate according to Malzahn, it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge as the starter.
Most believe it will be one of the newcomers Marshall or Johnson.
Whoever it is, they could be the difference in a losing season and a bowl game.
Graham is a sports columnist for The Outlook.