AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn’s football team doesn’t just want its freshmen to contribute this year, it needs them to.
With few upperclassmen remaining and a consensus top-five recruiting class ready to take the field, the Tigers expect their newcomers to make an immediate impact.
A look at head coach Gene Chizik’s time on the Plains suggests he’s not shy about getting newcomers on the field.
Of the 18 scholarship freshmen in 2009, 11 played. Of the 26 last year, 15 got on the field in some capacity, not counting wide receiver Trovon Reed, who played two snaps but earned a medical redshirt.
After a week and a half of practice and numerous interviews with coaches, you can get a sense of which freshmen might be big contributors this year. Here are the most likely candidates:
LG Christian Westerman: He’s a mauler up front who has opened some eyes during two-a-days. Tentatively put at left guard, he’d have to beat out senior Jared Cooper to get on the field, but he’s versatile enough to move around, and John Sullen’s spot at right guard isn’t solidified.
LT Greg Robinson: A massive tackle, the only thing blocking him might be the position he plays. Seniors Brandon Mosley and A.J. Greene are the projected starters on the outside of the line, although an undisclosed injury has kept Greene out of action of late, and Mosley can play either side, perhaps opening a door for Robinson.
C Reese Dismukes: He’s neck-and-neck with sophomore walk-on Blake Burgess, with no indication who might win the job. Having enrolled last winter to go through spring drills puts him in a position to grab the starting spot, however.
RB Tre Mason: He was a late addition after waiting for word from the NCAA Clearinghouse, but he appears ready to play. He scored three touchdowns in Wednesday’s scrimmage and plays a position running backs coach Curtis Luper said is one of the easiest for a freshman to pick up. Auburn has a need for a third back, too.
WR Quan Bray: A do-all receiver from Troup County, his biggest impact might come on special teams. As a kick returner or punt returner, Bray could make a difference right away. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has a way of getting playmakers the ball.
TE Brandon Fulse: He’s big (6-foot-4, 238 pounds) and is working at an H-back position that is fairly open. If he can fill that spot in certain situations, it would free junior Philip Lutzenkirchen for more prominent roles as a pass catcher.
QB Kiehl Frazier: To win the starting job would be a tall task, but it might behoove the coaches to let Frazier get his feet wet if they’re serious about him competing for the job in 2012. Playing Frazier also would spread out him and 2012 commitment Zeke Pike by two years if, looking long-term, the Tigers chose to redshirt Pike.
DT Gabe Wright: At 316 pounds, the former Carver High star is physically ready to play. It’s a matter of adjusting mentally to the college game. Jeffrey Whitaker and Ken Carter will start, but the three-man rotation the Tigers used last year worked well. Adding another body to the mix is necessary.
DT Angelo Blackson: And it that body could be the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Delaware product. He drew rave reviews in the summer but, like Wright, has to get his technique down before he can be consistently can be effective at the college level.
CB Jonathan Rose: He enrolled last winter to get a jumpstart jump start on the competition and it should help him. He’s big for a corner (6-2, 178), which could come in handy against some of the more physically imposing receivers the league has to offer.
CB Robenson Therezie: Coaches have raved about his skill set, saying he’ll be the model for future cornerback recruits. Coaches have said “Cadillac’ has a gear that most of the members of the secondary don’t have when it comes to speed.
CB Jermaine Whitehead: Another in a talented trio of cornerbacks, he could challenge for playing time right away, especially in the nickel package.
S Erique Florence: Neiko Thorpe has one safety spot locked down, but Demetruce McNeal is a new starter at the other position. Florence, of Valley High, might not move past him, but, with two walk-ons and a sophomore as his competition for backup duties, he could jump to the front of the list as the third safety option.