- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Is this the best team in the SEC? Is Auburn poised to bring a national championship back to the SEC? Right now, the Tigers are one of the favorites, but there are still a few things that need to be worked out before we can crown Auburn champion of anything.
1. Running back: Honestly, it might not matter who starts here. Gus Malzahn has coached the SEC's top rushers the past two years, and who's to say that won't happen again? But the battle waging on the Plains is exciting nonetheless. Right now, sophomores Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber are the leaders of the pack, and prohibitive favorite Jovon Robinson -- a junior college transfer -- is looking to work his way back up the depth chart before the season begins. Robinson ran for 3,198 yards in two years at the JUCO level, but his coaches weren't too impressed with how he started fall camp -- both on and off the field. He bounced back this week, but still has a ways to go. So far, Thomas has been the most consistent running back of the group. After rushing for 214 yards last season, Thomas seemed to turn another switch on after the season and has really impressed his coaches. Like Robinson, Barber has more of a bullish, pounding style than Thomas, but expect all three to get early time to start the season before someone takes the reins.
2. H-back: Not having Jay Prosch last season hurt this offense at times when it needed to grind out the short yards. (Yes, even Malzahn's offense needs a pounding presence at times.) This season, the Tigers are hoping to secure that position. So far, the coaches feel really good about redshirt freshman Kamryn Pettway and true freshman Chandler Cox. Both are athletic and have a bit of power to them. They will likely be used more as blockers this fall, but both can catch, which will add yet another element to this offense. Whoever takes the starting spot will be crucial to how the Tigers more effectively run their offense. With a more pounding run game expected thanks to Jeremy Johnson moving behind center, the Tigers will need an athletic blocker to keep Johnson upright on short-yardage plays. Those running backs probably won't mind a big guy moving and blocking with them, too.
3. Defensive end: So Carl Lawson has his Buck position on the outside locked up, but the Tigers have an intriguing competition raging opposite him. Yes, the secondary has depth questions, but Auburn has to find a consistent pass-rush, and you know offenses will be keying on Lawson. He will need help if the Tigers are going to get to the quarterback better than they did last season. Like Lawson, senior DaVonte Lambert is coming off an ACL injury. Although, Lambert suffered his in November, so the hope is he makes a full recovery after missing all of spring practice. He'll get all the push he wants from super freshman Byron Cowart, who could be an absolute monster for the Tigers. Cowart could move around and play some Buck, but if he lives up to his mammoth hype early, he will be a gem opposite Lawson. Gimel President, who started nine games last season, could also get some work outside at end and Buck.
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