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February 25, 2008
Auburn returns nine starters on offense and seven on defense, so expectations will be high on the Plains. But with two new coordinators and a question mark at quarterback, spring practice will be as important as ever for coach Tommy Tuberville's crew.
Ben Tate rushed for 903 yards and eight touchdowns in 2007.
Offense—9: Montez Billings, C Jason Bosley, OG Tyronne Green, RB Brad Lester, OT Ryan Pugh, OG Chaz Ramsey, WR Rod Smith, RB Ben Tate, OT Lee Ziemba.
Defense—7: LB Tray Blackmon, DE Antonio Coleman, S Zac Etheridge, LB Chris Evans, DE Sen'Derrick Marks, CB Jerraud Powers, LB Craig Stevens.
Special teams—2: K Wes Byrum, P Ryan Shoemaker.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Auburn started three freshman offensive linemen last year and should feel pretty secure in that area for years to come. Coleman and Marks give the Tigers two of the SEC's top defensive ends. The Tigers also have one of the nation's best kicking/punting duos in Byrum and Shoemaker.
HELP IS NEEDED
Auburn must adjust to a pair of new coordinators – Tony Franklin on the offensive side and Paul Rhoads on defense – but the real concern is how well Kodi Burns will adjust as a first-year starting quarterback, assuming he wins the job. Burns did an outstanding job running Franklin's offense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but Franklin has declared the quarterback competition wide open heading into spring practice. Burns' biggest challenge could come from Chris Todd, a Texas Tech signee who transferred to Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College after losing a quarterback competition to Graham Harrell.
KEEP AN EYE ON
QB Kodi Burns went only 10 of 26 through the air during his freshman season, but his running ability seems to make him a perfect fit for new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin's offense - a scheme that benefits mobile quarterbacks. If Burns doesn't win the job, it probably will go to Chris Todd, a former Texas Tech recruit who threw for over 10,000 yards while directing Franklin's offense at Elizabethtown (Ky.) High School, where Franklin worked as a consultant. DT Jake Ricks should step right into the spot vacated by Pat Sims, who chose to enter the NFL Draft after his junior season.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Tray Blackmon was the nation's top outside linebacker recruit when he signed with Auburn in 2005, but off-field issues have prevented this former five-star prospect from playing a full season yet. Auburn returns plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but Blackmon's the kind of guy who could determine whether this is a good season or a great season for the Tigers.
Auburn returns so many starters that the Tigers are sure to enter the season with plenty of optimism, but the staff changes definitely offer cause for concern. If the veterans appear to be responding to Franklin and Rhoads, it will give Auburn fans more reason to believe they could unseat LSU as the Western Division champions.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.