The first one I am going to mention is Jay Boulware because of the job he has done with the speciality teams. I don't remember a group making more progress from one year to the next than Auburn's special teams have made from 2009 to 2010.
One of the reasons for the improvement is the addition of talented true freshmen, but there are also a lot of upperclassmen who are part of those teams. When you have veteran players like Darvin Adams and Kodi Burns volunteering to be part of the special teams units and playing with intensity while doing it that helps develop an unselfish football team and that is exactly what the 2010 Auburn team is.
The Tigers didn't get any big punt returns, but created some big plays off their kickoff returns this year and that was a big part of their success. The blocked punt was a big play against Arkansas and the on-sides kicks were big special teams plays, too. The coverage of kickoffs has been good this year. a huge improvement from last season.
Coach Jay Boulware
A lot of players think that being on a speciality team is not what they signed up for, but you can tell Auburn's players have been carrying out their assignments on the special teams with a lot of enthusiasm.
Offensively, you can just look at every position and see the personality of the coaches shining through. You have to be impressed with the job Coach Trooper Taylor has done with the wide receivers because of how unselfishly his guys played in the games when Auburn wasn't throwing the ball a lot. They have been very instrumental in making Auburn's running game a success in addition to doing a good job catching balls thrown their way.
Coach Curtis Luper has done a great job with the running backs. That is evident in the play of Mario Fannin and Onterio McCalebb and how Michael Dyer has developed as he was brought along slowly early in the year when he was playing with a sore knee. It looks to me like Coach Luper has got the most out of the running backs he could.
You have to be impressed with the job that Jeff Grimes has done with the offensive line. Even though they are mostly a senior group they have continued to improve throughout the season. When the team lost tackle A.J. Greene with an injury it didn't seem to affect the group at all as Brandon Mosley stepped in and did a good job.
I have been totally impressed with the way Coach Grimes goes about his work and how his players have responded. The offensive line has been a main factor in Auburn's success. A lot of times those guys are the unsung heroes of a good team. These linemen have received a lot of credit, which is much deserved, because their leadership and performance this season has been outstanding.
Coach Jeff Grimes
Coach Gus Malzahn has done a wonderful job with the quarterbacks. There is no doubt that Cameron Newton has great talent and Coach Malzahn put the offense in a great position to take advantage of what Cam can do. Also impressive is the fact Coach Malzahn had a great game plan week after week.
Overall, the offensive coaching staff has done an impressive job this year and it has been a lot of fun to watch.
Defensively, the Tigers started the season kind of slow and suspect in some areas, but the one thing that has remained constant is that this team has stopped the run all year long. I realize Auburn's defense has a big challenge coming up in the BCS Championship Game against Oregon, a team with a spread offense that knows how to be very effective running the ball from that formation. Oregon's leading rusher, LaMichael James, is a great running back.
Auburn's secondary struggled at times this year, but there was never a time when you felt like those kids weren't playing as hard as they could play and trying to do the best they could do.
The defense started the season with the two veteran safeties coming back from serious injuries. They were rusty early in the year and then the team started getting some kids hurt in the secondary, including Aairon Savage at safety who was lost for the season. It is always tough on coaches when that happens and you need to play true freshmen and others without much experience because that is such a critical area on the team. Sometimes you can get away with mistakes up front and somebody will cover for you, but when you make a mistake in the secondary everybody knows it.
Auburn has had to play against some great receivers this year and those guys made some big plays against the Tigers, but they did the same thing against everybody they played. Virtually every one of them, by the end of the game, really didn't want to go inside and catch the ball. That was the result of playing against a hard-hitting secondary that got a lot guys flying to the football once the ball was in the air.
Coach Ted Roof, in my opinion, deserves a lot of credit for developing the linebackers. The two seniors are big part of the team's success. Craig Stevens started off a little slow missing the first two games, but he played well down the stretch. Josh Bynes developed into not on an outstanding football player, he has become an outstanding leader. He is a field general getting everybody lined up out there and that goes back to coaching. Coach Roof has him well-schooled along with the other seniors like Zac Etheridge at safety, another player who provides a lot of leadership. Auburn had to do some shuffling with the weakside linebacker spot having several guys hurt and that wasn't easy dealing with that.
You can't say enough about the job Tracy Rocker is doing with the defensive front. He is getting the maximum out of the older guys like Nick Fairley, Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans. Probably the unsung hero up front is tackle Zach Clayton. If you have watched all of the Auburn games this year the three or four plays he has made 15 to 20 or even 30 yards downfield stand out with his pure effort. When it comes to effort, the play that Antoine Carter made to cause a fumble and touchback against Alabama was about as good as it gets.
It has been fun to watch Fairley play and develop into an All-American tackle. It has been fun to see how much he has improved under Coach Rocker's direction since he came to Auburn last year. He has been a dominating player all year.
Another one of Coach Rocker's players, Mike Blanc, did a good job when he came into the game and you can see the development of the true freshmen inside at tackle and outside at end. Jeffrey Whitaker looks like he can be an outstanding tackle. At end I am impressed with how Nosa Eguae has developed as a redshirt freshman.
Coach Tracy Rocker
I am a little old-fashioned, but with the exception of the quarterback I believe the defensive guys who line up with their hands on ground are the most important people in determining which team is going to win and which team is going to lose. They can cause more problems for an opposing team than anybody when they are playing really well.
Coach Gene Chizik deserves credit for tying it all together. The most difficult thing for a head coach is to have his team ready to play well enough mentally, physically and spiritually to win each week. There were times this season the Tigers didn't play as well as they could, but there was never a time I could detect when the kids didn't play hard and when they didn't finish a game. They can make a tremendous statement in the national championship game because Oregon has a reputation for finishing strong so we'll see what happens. It ought to be a fun game.
If you haven't watched the highlight video of the Auburn season I highly recommend it. I think it gives you a good idea of the type of job that Coach Chizik and his team have done this year. The pre-game and post-game locker room scenes are outstanding and make you proud to be an Auburn man.
My congratulations to the coaching staff and to the players, particularly the senior leaders who have had so much to do with the team being where it is today. I have been around a long enough to know success begins with the head coach and those people who spend the late hours in those offices putting the team in the right position to make plays.
When you have kids willing to go out there and work like they are supposed to work in practice and then play hard on Saturdays, it is enjoyable for a coach like me to watch. It has been a whale of year and a lot of fun to see this group develop into a team that is one victory away from winning the national championship.
From the mailbag:
Hi Coach Dye,
I have never had the pleasure to talk to you but, I wanted to tell you how important you are to the Auburn Family. I was born and raised in Huntsville, AL and most of my family are Alabama fans. My immediate family are all big Auburn Fans. I was 8 years old when you became the new Head Coach at Auburn and remember my late father telling me that you would bring Auburn back to the top. He was correct! But growing up in this state with bama fans it was hard to have much to cheer about until you Mr. Dye came and made Auburn what it is today. I wanted to tell you THANK YOU for all of hard work you put in for this university. I know this current Auburn football team will bring home the National Championship. This is all because of one man, Coach Pat Dye!
I appreciate your comments, but one thing I?know for sure about my time at Auburn is that any success we had was a group effort. There were countless people involved in developing a championship caliber team and football program when I came to Auburn in 1981. I wish you and all of our readers a Merry Christmas!
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.