Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker calls Zach Clayton ‘key cog’
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn debuted at No. 23 in the USA Today coaches poll released Friday, one of six SEC teams in the preseason rankings.
The Tigers were the lowest of the six, behind Alabama (first), Florida (third), LSU (16th), Arkansas (19th) and Georgia (21st).
Auburn hasn’t been in the poll since Nov. 8 last year, when it improved to 7-3 after beating Furman. The highest the Tigers got in the coaches’ poll last season was 19th after winning their first five games.
The Associated Press releases its preseason poll Aug. 16.
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker rattled through a list of his players he thinks will be integral to Auburn’s success this year but only got animated about one: senior Zach Clayton, whose career has been plagued by a series of injuries.
“Zach is going to be a key cog to this whole deal if he can stay healthy,” Rocker said. “That’s all we worry about it. He’s doing well. He’s always done well.”
The 6-foot-3, 296-pound Clayton missed six games last season because of a high-ankle sprain, and missed chunks of time earlier in his career with shoulder problems.
But when healthy, like 2008 when he had 7.5 tackles for a loss in 11 games, he has been effective, able to play any position on the line.
“It’s just a matter of keeping him healthy,” Rocker said. “We all got our fingers crossed. We put rabbit foots in his locker, chicken legs, all that stuff.”
Confidence is high
Quarterback Barrett Trotter felt good during spring drills after missing all of last year with a knee injury, but the redshirt sophomore thinks this summer played an even larger role in helping him get back to full strength.
“I felt like the summer helped me get the knee under me a lot and I could get that agility back that I had before,” he said. “Before that I could do everything, but I didn’t feel as good as I do now.”
Recruited by Al Borges in 2008, Trotter has gone through a series of offensive coordinators, from Tony Franklin to Steve Ensminger and now Gus Malzahn. Last year’s injury prevented him from showcasing his abilities to the coaches.
Although Cam Newton was named the No. 1 quarterback in April, Trotter hasn’t let it affect his outlook.
“You’re going to work hard, no matter if you’re first, second or third,” he said. “So for me, it really doesn’t change anything.”
Auburn’s official roster lists running back Onterio McCalebb at 171 pounds, but the sophomore and his position coach, Curtis Luper, contend he’s at 180, more than 20 pounds heavier than when he first got to Auburn.
“I think it will make me a lot healthier,” said McCalebb, who struggled the second half of last season after suffering a high-ankle sprain.
McCalebb, who ran for 565 yards and four touchdowns last year, the majority of which was in the first four weeks, swears he hasn’t lost his trademark speed.
“A lot of people thought I’d be slower but I went out there and I was showing everybody that I wasn’t slower,” he said. “I was faster.”