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Friday, March 11, 2011
This isn't the tone Auburn was seeking

By Chris Low

Auburn coach Gene Chizik didn't have any choice after getting the embarrassing news.

Four of his players, including returning senior safety Mike McNeil, were arrested on robbery, burglary and theft charges early Friday morning. According to police, they stole property from a residence not far from Auburn's campus, and one of the players displayed a handgun during the robbery.

By Friday afternoon, they were no longer a part of the Auburn program, as Chizik permanently dismissed all four players. In addition to McNeil, receiver Antonio Goodwin, receiver/H-back Shaun Kitchens and offensive lineman Dakota Mosley were booted. Goodwin and Kitchens played last season as true freshmen, primarily on special teams, while Mosley redshirted.

"While we realize the legal process will run its course and these young men have a right for their case to be heard, playing for Auburn University is an honor and a privilege. It is not a right," Chizik said in a statement.

In other words, when you have multiple felony charges hanging over your head, you've lost that right.

What's it do to the Auburn football team next season?

Well, McNeil was the returning veteran in a secondary that will now be without three of the players who started in the BCS National Championship Game. Expect to see a lot of new faces at safety next fall. Sophomore Demetruce McNeal is the favorite to replace Zac Etheridge at strong safety. After that, it's anybody's guess. Sophomore Ryan Smith, junior Ikeem Means and senior Drew Cole will all get looks, although they haven't played a whole lot to this point. The Tigers also signed a talented defensive back class in February that includes one of the top safety prospects in America -- Erique Florence.

The bottom line: The Tigers are going to need a bunch of those guys from their highly-touted 2010 signing class to step up next season. Of course, gone are three of members of that class -- Kitchens, Goodwin and Mosley.

More than ever, guys like Corey Lemonier, Jeffrey Whitaker, Trovon Reed and Ed Christian are going to have to take on leading roles. Smith is also a member of that 2010 class.

And the leaders on Auburn's team need to lay down the law that no more law-breaking is going to be tolerated.

Senior H-back Eric Smith was kicked off the team last month after being arrested on a third-degree domestic violence charge.

The Tigers don't need any more attrition, and they don't need any more embarrassing distractions.

It was going to be difficult enough as it was following in the footsteps of last season's national championship team when you consider how many key players from that team are gone.

The good thing for the Tigers is that they've recruited extremely well these past two classes, but nobody on the Plains can be happy about the tone that's being set heading into spring practice.