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Friday, Apr. 08, 2011

Andy bitter commentary on Auburn football: Some conclusions already drawn from Tigers' spring practices

Starting with the quarterback competition

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AUBURN, Ala. — As an observer, there is only so much you can get from spring football drills.

Auburn has locked down practices. Three 20-minute viewing periods, mostly involving stretching, don’t paint a clear picture of who’s standing out in the spring.

Just look at last year: Reporters, this one included, had reservations about how effective Cam Newton would be as a quarterback. (In fairness, the coaches said the same thing.)

But Saturday’s scrimmage will mark the 10th practice of the spring for the Tigers, two-thirds of the way through, enough to get a sense of how they are progressing.

Here are a few conclusions so far:

1. Clint Moseley is a real contender to win the starting quarterback job.

This might be stating the obvious, considering Auburn has only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster right now, but Moseley has been impressive.

He has grown up. No more sulking or pity parties. Coaches have been struck by his maturity, which in college football, especially at quarterback, is half the battle (see Garcia, Stephen).

Barrett Trotter, last year’s backup, seemed like the odds-on favorite to succeed Newton, but Moseley has an “it” factor.

He made plays in the team’s only scrimmage, throwing two touchdowns (Trotter said he didn’t have any). He is personable, the type who seems like he can control a huddle. And he has the tools: 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, with a big arm and a winner’s pedigree. His upside seems higher than Trotter’s.

Whoever wins the job might be a place-holder until highly touted freshman Kiehl Frazier gets up to speed. But considering Frazier won’t get his first snaps in a practice until August, it’s unlikely that will happen early, if at all, next season.

Now that Moseley has his head on straight, it wouldn’t surprise me if he wins the job.

2. No position group will have a tougher rebuilding job than the offensive line.

If I had to rank the position groups by which has the largest rebuilding task, it would be (in order): offensive line, linebackers and defensive line.

The defensive line lost four seniors and Nick Fairley but returns budding stars Nosa Eguae and Corey Lemonier. The linebackers lost Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens but at least has Daren Bates back in the same spot for a second year.

The offensive line’s rebuilding task is monumental. The group that graduated made 165 starts. The one that replaces it has 16. Naturally, there’s going to be a drop-off.

But it can’t be understated how effective last year’s line was at playing together. There is a bond that develops up front that can’t be rushed. Players know each other’s tendencies and react accordingly, often without having to say anything.

The Tigers have mixed and matched to find the right starting offensive linemen this spring. And while it’s necessary to breed competition, it hurts continuity.

Auburn has recruited well, but some of the most-talented players (Christian Westerman, Greg Robinson) won’t arrive until the summer, making it hard for them to fit into the puzzle.

The group will jell with time, but Auburn fans will find out early that the biggest reason Newton, Mike Dyer and company were able to run for all those yards is because of the guys up front.

3. If you are looking for a breakout star, it’s cornerback T’Sharvan Bell.

You could say Bell broke out late in the season, with his knockout blow to Greg McElroy in the Iron Bowl and his pick six against South Carolina in the SEC title game, but he still started only three games. Now, he is Auburn’s best cornerback.

In the past scrimmage, he had a fumble recovery and an interception that would have gone for a touchdown if not for the coaches blowing the play dead.

T-Bell makes plays, something the Auburn secondary desperately needs (the linebackers had as many interceptions as the defensive backs last year), and he has put himself forward as a spokesman for the defense, two reasons you will be reading plenty more about him this season.

Andy Bitter, abitter@ledger-enquirer.com
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