With less than three weeks left until Auburn opens the season against Clemson, the Tigers still have plenty of question marks on the offensive side of the ball. We take a look at some of the spots still up for grabs for Coach Gene Chizik's club.
This race continues on with sophomore Kiehl Frazier and junior Clint Moseley battling for the starting job. Both have shown signs of solid play this preseason, but offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler continues to emphasize steady play and not making mistakes at the position. Freshman Jonathan Wallace has done a very good job of getting a feel for the offense so far in practice, but the two-man race continues.
"We still haven't decided which guy we're going to play yet," Loeffler said. "They are improving, but there are some inconsistencies. There have been some inconsistencies across the board, but there has been some extreme improvement and that's encouraging. All three are improving. We just have to find the guy that is going to give us the chance to be consistent on every single play."
With Jovon Robinson's eligibility in question and Mike Blakely banged up with a sore knee, Tigers are down to just three healthy scholarship running backs at the moment. That's including Corey Grant, who was battling a sore ankle last week as well. Because of that don't expect Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason to get a bulk of carries in scrimmages the rest of the way as the Tigers try to get them as healthy as possible for the opener against Clemson on Sept. 1.
Tre Mason is prepared to carry the load for the Tigers
While Emory Blake is solidly a number one guy on one side for the Tigers, the question still lingers as to who the number two receiver will be for Auburn this fall. With Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton both having a solid preseason their experience could win out in the end, but the youngsters at the position will have something to say about that first. Sophomore Trovon Reed is bigger and stronger and has looked good so far in practice. The same is true of Quan Bray as both adapt to working inside and outside in the new offense. Jaylon Denson is also doing a good job of making plays on the outside while redshirt freshman Sammie Coates may be the big play threat the offense needs opposite Blake. True freshman Ricardo Louis and walk-on Melvin Ray are both big athletic guys, but are behind on the learning curve at the moment.
"As a group I think they are making great strides," Loeffler said of the wide receivers. "Quan Bray is stepping up and T Reed is doing a great job. I'm really happy about the progress of the receiving corps. They are blocking and being physical. Their route running has improved, but again their details, the entire offensive unit, we need to clean up the details."
There seems to be no question that three players will be starting against Clemson in the opener if healthy as center Reese Dismukes and left tackle Greg Robinson Look to be set in stone at their positions and Chad Slade will also likely be on the field as well, but where remains the key to unlocking Auburn's offensive line. Playing both right tackle and right guard, Slade's home will determine how the rest of the line shakes out this season for the Tigers as will the health of senior John Sullen. Unable to go full speed so far this preseason until the last three practices, Sullen's absence has meant a lot of work for true freshmen Alex Kozan and Jordan Diamond at left guard. Perhaps the surprise of the preseason, Kozan has gotten the bulk of first-team reps and has put himself ina good position for playing time right away.
Can Alex Kozan be another freshman starter for the Tigers on the offensive line?
On the right side when Slade is at tackle it has been Christian Westerman and Diamond at right guard for the Tigers. Westerman is a year older and more mature at the moment, but Diamond has hit the ground running in his quest for early playing time. When Slade moves inside to guard it has been true freshman Patrick Miller and Avery Young getting the reps with the first-team at right tackle. Able to go through spring practice after graduating high school early, Miller had the leg up going into the fall, but Young's size, athleticism, and work ethic have made it a very good battle between the two. Loeffler said all of the freshmen linemen have come in and shown why they were highly rated.
"We're really excited about that whole class," Loeffler said. "That whole class of offensive linemen were recruited highly and what the recruiting analysts thought of them were right, and that's not always the case. We're excited about that young group."
In the end the decision may come down to which group plays the best together for Coach Jeff Grimes. If he feels like the offensive line works best with Slade at tackle then Westerman could be the choice at guard. If Grimes like the line better with Slade inside then Auburn would likely head into the opener in the Georgia Dome with a pair of freshmen offensive tackles. Chizik said the Tigers are getting closer to seeing how things wash out up front.
"I can't give you a number of days," Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said on when the five starters would be named. "I think we're developing some really good ideas. We'll be coming down the home stretch here probably in the next five or six days in solidifying that. That's where we would like to be."