2011 overall record: 8-5
2011 conference record: 4-4
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Michael Dyer (1,242 yards)
Passing: Barrett Trotter (1,184 yards)
Receiving: Emory Blake* (613 yards)
Tackles: Daren Bates* (104)
Sacks: Corey Lemonier* (9.5)
Interceptions: Neiko Thorpe (3)
1. Fearsome foursome: The runaway winner as the most impressive unit this spring was Auburn’s defensive line, which is encouraging to everybody on the Plains given the way the Tigers struggled up front last season with injuries and a little bit of everything else. Junior defensive end Corey Lemonier is one of the best pass-rushers in the league. But by all accounts, it was another junior defensive end, Dee Ford, who wreaked the most havoc this spring. Ford missed most of last season with back problems. The Tigers are deep at both end and tackle, and if some of the injured players come back healthy (Gabe Wright, Kenneth Carter and Nosa Eguae), this is a defensive line that could be dominant.
2. Whitehead’s versatility: It didn’t take first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder long this spring to single out Jermaine Whitehead for his football smarts. The versatile sophomore was good enough that he may end up playing three different positions in the fall -- cornerback, safety and nickel back -- and VanGorder said that kind of versatility should open up all sorts of possibilities for the Tigers on defense.
3. New-look offense: The Tigers weren’t giving away a whole lot this spring as to what first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense is going to look like. It will certainly be different than what the Tigers did under Gus Malzahn, and the players all left spring practice saying it was a good fit. Tre Mason looks like he’s going to be a big-time player, and several receivers seemed to find a new lease on life in Loeffler’s system. A lot of it’s going to come down to how the Tigers play at quarterback, but there was a quiet confidence on the offensive side coming out of the spring.
1. Thin at linebacker: The only proven commodity is senior Daren Bates, who made a nice jump last season and became more consistent as a tackler. There’s potential in the form of some younger players, but just not a lot of experience or depth. Redshirt freshman Kris Frost is an impressive looking athlete who had his moments, but he’s still learning on the job. Junior Jake Holland may well be the key. He steps in at middle linebacker, and the Tigers need him to develop into a physical run-stuffing presence. Chances are that incoming true freshman Cassanova McKinzy will also have to play some this fall in the middle.
2. Quarterback quandary: The Tigers ended spring practice without naming a starting quarterback. Junior Clint Moseley, who took over the starting duties from Barrett Trotter late last season, was hampered by shoulder problems this spring and missed some practice time. Sophomore Kiehl Frazier picked up some valuable reps and made the most of them. He still needs to become more consistent as a passer, but his ability to extend the play gives him a leg up heading into the fall. The Tigers will need to identify a starter fairly early in preseason practice to start building some chemistry.
3. Regaining the edge on defense: It was a forgettable season on defense for the Tigers a year ago. They gave up yards by the chunk and gave up a ton of big plays. More than anything, they lost their confidence, which was obvious by the way it all fell apart for them during that brutal stretch in November. VanGorder’s greatest challenge was to get this defense playing with an edge again, be it making key stops, taking the ball away or finishing the game the right way.