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March 22, 2009

Auburn hoping new regime can fix offense

The Tommy Tuberville era is over at Auburn. A 5-7 season, thanks mostly to a bad offense, led to a parting of the ways between Tuberville and school officials.

The new coach is Gene Chizik, a former Auburn defensive coordinator who was hired away from Iowa State, where he had won just five games in two seasons.

Chizik hired offensive guru Gus Malzahn in an effort to spice up things on that side of the ball. As usual, the defense appears as if it will be stout.

Here's a look at the Tigers as they prepare for spring practice.

AUBURN AT-A-GLANCE
Tommy Trott teams with Gabe McKenzie to form a solid tight end combo.
THE BASICS
Coach: Gene Chizik
Last season: 5-7, 2-6 SEC
Spring dates: March 24-April 18
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (6): WR Montez Billings, QB Kodi Burns, G Byron Isom, C Ryan Pugh, TE Tommy Trott, T Lee Ziemba.
Defense (7): LB Josh Bynes, E Antonio Coleman, FS Zac Etheridge, E Michael Goggans, CB Walter McFadden, SS Mike McNeil, LB Craig Stevens.
Special teams (2): K Wes Byrum, P Clinton Durst.
Positions of strength

The Tigers are strong along the defensive line, in the secondary and at tight end. The line is headlined by Antonio Coleman and Michael Goggans. Three of four starters in the secondary are returning, and two-year starter Aairon Savage will be back after missing last season with a knee injury. Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie are good tight ends.

Help is needed

Is there a quarterback in the house? And where are the playmakers at wide receiver and running back? Running backs Ben Tate and Mario Fannin are solid, but depth is needed. Almost every quarterback and receiver is ineffective or inexperienced. Watch out for two redshirt freshmen: QB Barrett Trotter and WR Philip Pierre-Louis.

Keep an eye on

RB Mario Fannin: It's no secret that they love to pound the rock on the Plains. Fannin, a sophomore, needs to show he's durable and dependable this spring.

LB Eltoro Freeman: Auburn has just six scholarship linebackers, so it's important that Freeman - a junior college transfer who already is on campus - secure one of the outside linebacker spots for a defense that looks stout.

WR Philip Pierre-Louis: The offense is desperate for some targets who can stretch the field to loosen defenses. That's why all eyes will be on Pierre-Louis, a 5-foot-8, 155-pound redshirt freshman.

His time is now

If he impresses this spring, junior Kodi Burns could win the quarterback job. He has shown flashes in the past, but Burns still is a raw passer and dubious decision-maker at a position that for too long has been too weak for Auburn.

The buzz

After 10 years under Tuberville, there's a new sheriff in Auburn. Chizik, a former Auburn assistant, arrives from Iowa State. The players must adapt to new coordinator Malzahn's attack. His top goal is to find a consistent quarterback. Malzahn also is on the lookout for playmakers at wide receiver and running back. The defense also must adapt to new coordinator Ted Roof, who must begin building a strong set of linebackers and improve depth overall.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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