Hope and concern: Auburn

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Biggest reason for hope: Getting defensive

First-year Auburn coach Gene Chizik is a defensive guy, and that's where the Tigers' hopes will rest this first season on the Plains. Their defensive production dropped some last season, especially toward the end of the year when things really started to sour. But Chizik's proven that he can put together quality defenses, and there's enough returning talent even with tackle Sen'Derrick Marks deciding to turn pro that Auburn should be in most games next season simply because of its defense. End Antonio Coleman is one of the better pass-rushers in the league. His running mate, Michael Goggans, might be one of the most-improved players in the league, and the Tigers have a wealth of experience in the secondary. The severity of Aairon Savage's Achilles injury will be worth watching. Depth is a concern at linebacker, but the starting threesome of Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens and junior college newcomer Eltore Freeman has a chance to be special.

Biggest reason for concern: And the quarterback is ...

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has his work cut out. Not only is he putting in his version of the spread offense, but the Tigers are still not sure who their starting quarterback will be. Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle exited the spring as the top two, but neither performed consistently enough for Malzahn to pinpoint a starter. At this point, the whole thing has the makings of the Tigers going into the season and jockeying back and forth between a couple of different guys for most of the year. Chris Todd, depending on how well his shoulder holds up, could also be a factor. The guy Auburn fans are most excited about is incoming freshman Tyrik Rollison, who has all the physical tools to be an excellent spread quarterback. But do you really want to hand the keys to the offense to a true freshman, especially when everybody else around him is still learning as they go in a new system? Stay tuned.

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