AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn opened spring football drills last year wondering whether Cam Newton would be the right fit at quarterback and whether Nick Fairley would be a consistent player.
Suffice to say, both set the stage for breakout 2010 seasons.
The Tigers hope for similar breakthroughs when they begin a month’s worth of spring drills today.
Auburn has plenty of question marks a little more than two months after winning the national championship, with more than 30 players from last season’s team no longer on the roster, including the Heisman Trophy-winning Newton and Lombardi Award-winning Fairley.
Here are five questions to ponder as the Tigers begin the first of 15 spring practices today:
1) Who will be Newton’s replacement?
Junior Barrett Trotter, who served as Newton’s backup last year, is the frontrunner to start at quarterback, although he got little action last year because of the number of close games Auburn played.
Trotter has one major thing working to his advantage: experience. Although he missed the 2009 season with a knee injury, he has been around Gus Malzahn’s offense for more than two years now.
The only other scholarship option on the roster is sophomore Clint Moseley, who is big (6-3, 232 pounds) and has a strong arm. This spring will finally offer him an opportunity to show what he can do.
Highly touted freshman Kiehl Frazier, considered the team’s quarterback of the future, doesn’t arrive until the summer, giving Trotter and Moseley a head start.
2) Besides Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, who are the Tigers’ play-makers?
There’s quite a void to fill. Newton had a hand in 51 of the team’s 75 touchdowns, and departed wide receivers Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery combined for 95 catches, 1,568 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Dyer, the team’s workhorse running back, and McCalebb, a speedster who scored nine touchdowns, return. So does Emory Blake, who emerged as the third wide receiver, catching 33 passes for 554 yards and eight touchdowns, and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who established himself as a reliable red-zone target.
But Auburn will need more than that. Things are wide open for DeAngelo Benton, a 23-year-old junior who was a five-star recruit, to launch his career, which has been stunted by injuries.
Coaches also are excited by the potential of redshirt freshman Trovon Reed, who missed last year with a knee injury. He will play receiver, wildcat quarterback and might return punts.
3) How will the Tigers rebuild their offensive and defensive lines?
Mass departures on both sides of the ball decimated Auburn up front.
The offensive line lost four seniors who combined to make 165 career starts. Brandon Mosley, who started 11 games at right tackle, and A.J. Greene, another right tackle who is coming back from a broken ankle, return, as does junior John Sullen, a utility lineman who until now hasn’t found his way into the rotation.
A group of sophomores -- Eric Mack, Ed Christian, Chad Slade, Tunde Fariyike -- will get their chance, as will early enrollee Reese Dismukes, the heir apparent to Ryan Pugh at center.
The defensive line had just as much turnover. Sophomore Nosa Eguae is the veteran of the group, starting at power end. Corey Lemonier, a Freshman All-SEC pick, could be a breakout player at rush end.
Tackle is the biggest question mark, though. With Fairley, Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc gone, sophomores Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter, who got only a taste of action as freshmen, will be looked upon to take their place. Their combined career tackle total is 13.
4) Will a shuffled secondary be an improved one?
Demond Washington and Zac Etheridge graduated, Neiko Thorpe moved to safety, and Mike McNeil was kicked off the team for his involvement in a robbery.
It was a hectic offseason for the secondary, which will have a new look.
With Thorpe reportedly making a position switch, T’Sharvan Bell is the only entrenched player at cornerback, a junior among a group of youngsters fighting for spots.
Sophomore Chris Davis showed promise near the end of the season as a nickelback, redshirt freshman Jonathan Mincy figures to be out of Gene Chizik’s doghouse, and Jonathan Rose is an early enrollee looking to make an impact.
At safety, Demetruce McNeal will see whether he can make the try to transition from special teams standout to starting safety. Walk-on Ikeem Means also will compete for a spot.
5) What does Auburn have to do to rebuild its image?
The offseason was not kind to the Tigers. First, H-back Eric Smith was kicked off the team following his second arrest, this time for domestic violence.
Then four players -- McNeil, Antonio Goodwin, Shaun Kitchens and Dakota Mosley -- were arrested after allegedly using handguns to rob a trailer park south of campus. Chizik acted swiftly in permanently dismissing the arrested players from the team, but the damage was done from a public perception standpoint.
Auburn raised its profile by winning the national championship in Chizik’s second year. With it comes heightened scrutiny.
The Tigers will be under a microscope this spring. They will need to act accordingly.