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Friday, March 23, 2012
Opening spring camp: Auburn

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Schedule: Auburn opened spring practice on Friday at 9:30 a.m. The Tigers’ A-Day spring game is set for April 14 at 3 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Prior to the spring game, Auburn will unveil statues that morning commemorating its three Heisman Trophy winners – Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson and Cam Newton. All three players are scheduled to attend the ceremony.

What’s new: Scot Loeffler takes over for Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Loeffler was on the Temple staff last season, but has previously worked at Florida, Michigan and with the Detroit Lions. Malzahn left to take the Arkansas State head-coaching job. The Tigers’ defensive staff has just about been completely overhauled. Brian VanGorder is the new defensive coordinator after coming over from the Atlanta Falcons. He replaces Ted Roof, who is now the Penn State defensive coordinator after initially leaving to take the UCF defensive coordinator job. Willie Martinez will coach the Auburn secondary. Martinez was previously on Oklahoma’s staff and was the Georgia defensive coordinator prior to that. Tommy Thigpen has moved over to coach linebackers after coaching the Tigers’ safeties his first three years on the job. Defensive line coach Mike Pelton is the only one on the Auburn defensive staff that will be coaching the same position as a year ago.

On the mend: Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and defensive end Nosa Eguae are both recovering from surgeries and won’t practice this spring. Both players are expected to make a full recovery and be ready for the fall.

On the move: Sophomore C.J. Uzomah is moving from receiver to tight end. Defensive end Joel Bonomolo has left the team.

Key battle: Even though Michael Dyer was the centerpiece of the Tigers’ offense last season, they don’t seem to be fretting now that he’s gone. Maybe that’s because they like their talent at the running back position. Senior Onterio McCalebb returns, and while he’s been an excellent speed threat, he’ll have his hands full in terms of securing the role of every-down back. Sophomore Tre Mason filled in for Dyer in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and has a promising future. The same goes for transfers Corey Grant and Mike Blakely, both of whom sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules. Grant, who started his career at Alabama, has shined in the Tigers’ strength and conditioning program, and Blakely was rated as one of the top 10 running backs in the country when he signed with Florida in 2011. Grant and Blakely both enter spring practice weighing in the 205-pound range.

New faces: Fullback Jay Prosch has transferred from Illinois and will be eligible to play this fall. The 6-foot, 253-pound Prosch is a devastating blocker as well as an excellent special-teams player. Four freshmen who enrolled early are also going through spring practice, including quarterback Zeke Pike. The other three are offensive tackle Shane Callahan, offensive tackle Patrick Miller and linebacker Javiere Mitchell.

Breaking out: There’s not a lot of suspense about this one. Everybody on the Plains can’t wait to see redshirt freshman Greg Robinson, who’s the favorite to win the Tigers’ left tackle job on the offensive line. Robinson is freakishly athletic and has impressed coaches and teammates with his strength, quickness and power. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Robinson was the talk of bowl practices last December. Senior receiver Emory Blake said of Robinson, “He’s a beast of a person.”

Don’t forget about: Auburn’s secondary took its lumps last season. The Tigers finished last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense and gave up 23 touchdown passes while making just 11 interceptions. Despite those struggles, junior cornerback Chris Davis has everything it takes to be one of the premier defensive backs in this league. He battled injuries last season and wasn’t 100 percent. But he’s good in coverage, tackles well and has excellent instincts. The Tigers have to improve in the secondary next season. That’s a given. If Davis can stay healthy, here’s betting that he emerges as the anchor of that unit.

All eyes on: One way or the other, the Tigers will have a new starting quarterback to open the season for the sixth straight year. Last year, it was Barrett Trotter. The year before that, it was Cam Newton. And the year before that, it was Chris Todd. That’s just the way it’s gone at the position for the Tigers, who won’t be in any rush to name a starter. In fact, Loeffler doubts there will be a starter named this spring and doesn’t mind letting the competition extend into the preseason. Junior Clint Moseley has the most experience, but sophomore Kiehl Frazier has the edge in overall athleticism. Pike will also be getting reps. Ultimately, it’s going to be who adjusts best to what Loeffler wants to do on offense, which really hasn't been defined to this point.