Yeah, we're still doing this when and where we can get our Q's A'd. Today, the fine folks from The War Eagle Reader, perhaps the most well put together Auburn fan site on these here internets, have taken a stab at our offseason questions. You remember how this works - we look at things like coaching changes, departing players, incoming recruits, and all of the other things worth discussing in the months between the BCS National Championship game (oh, congrats again on that, Auburn) and the following season's kickoff.
RCR: Obviously, everybody's going to wonder what the Auburn offense will look like without Cam Newton, so let's get that question out of the way. What will the Auburn offense look like without Cam Newton?
TWER: The obvious answer here is to draw comparisons to the 2009 offense, which featured Chris Todd as the pocket-passing quarterback and Ben Tate as the feature runningback. At this stage, it's easy to picture a Barrett Trotter and a Michael Dyer filling those exact same roles, but the offense could end up completely different depending on who offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn chooses to start at quarterback. The coaches claim that they tailor the entire offensive system to the players and their strengths. As far-fetched as that sounds, I tend to believe them, especially when you consider that they took Chris Todd and turned him into a school-record setting quarterback and how they maximized every bit of Cam Newton's potential (who proceeded to obliterate all of said records).
The three quarterbacks competing for the starting job at fall camp (and all three are very much in contention) are sophomore Clint Moseley, junior Barrett Trotter, and freshman Kiehl Frazier. Moseley is the pure pocket passer that would bring a more traditional approach (if it would be even possible to call a Malzahn offense and its endless bag of tricks "traditional"), Trotter is a bit more balanced and could still have some option elements involved, and Frazier is the athletic freshman that could have the offense attempting to imitate what Cam and company did last season.
However, no matter who the starting quarterback is, they're not going to lead the SEC in rushing yards and touchdowns the way Cam did last year, so the runningbacks are going to be an even bigger factor for the Auburn offense this year. Luckily, Mike Dyer and Onterio McCalebb will provide a solid one-two punch, with several young guys coming in behind them.
RCR: Auburn lost some impact players on the lines. Who do you expect to step up and fill in for Lee Ziemba, Nick Fairley, et al?
TWER: Both the offensive and defensive lines have had to go through a major drop off this offseason. The offensive line lost four multiple-year-starter seniors and returns only two guys with any really meaningful in-game snaps. But the defensive line is probably even worse off; The unit has lost five guys from its rotation, including Nick Fairley, and it's going through a coaching change after defensive line coach Tracy Rocker left for the Tennessee Titans.
However, both units will be able to rebuild. The offensive side will have both A.J. Greene, who started the season at right tackle before being injured, and Brandon Mosley, who filled in for the rest of year, returning at the tackle positions with a lot of game experience. On the inside, there is a lot of talented young players mixing it up for starting roles, as the coaching staff has signed nine o-linemen over the past two years -- most of them very highly touted in the recruiting world.
The defensive line will be built from the outside moving in as well. Nosa Eguae, who finished out the season as the starter last year, will be one of the leaders of the team at one defensive end, and at the other end Corey Lemonier will be a playmaker as a pass rusher. On the inside, the transition will be a lot less seamless as sophomores and true freshmen will be trying to fill the massive shoes of Nick Fairley, and don't have much time before they're thrown into the fire.
RCR: Auburn pulled in another impressive recruiting class this past signing day. Who do you expect, of these new guys, to see playing time this fall?
TWER: If you must narrow it down, give us one guy on offense and one guy on defense.
There was a huge blow to this year's batch of freshmen when universal five-star Kris Frost went down for the year with a shoulder injury, especially since he's at the linebacker position, where he had a chance to make an immediate impact. However, there are still quite a few players that can find their way onto the field and in the mix on this young team.
One guy that is in such a spot is Gabe Wright, who is in a position with need of depth at defensive tackle. The highly acclaimed recruit should be thrown into the fire early, and have a chance to make some plays in the spots left behind by Nick Fairley and company. On offense, Quan Bray is different kind of weapon for Malzahn and the coaching staff, and we could see him, along with redshirt freshman Trovon Reed, in a different, Percy Harvin type of role, early and often in the season.
RCR: What have you been able to glean from offseason drills and workouts? Are there any players in particular who have shone this offseason?
TWER: One thing that has been a pleasant surprise for Auburn fans has been the praise the coaching staff has given to the offensive linemen. The starters on the interior line are far from being named, but young guys like Reese Dismukes and Christian Westerman have been garnering the praise of the coaching staff and teammates alike, which has Auburn fans feeling that perhaps the growing pains in trying to replace the anchors of last year's line may not be so severe. Beyond that, the majority of the young players that have come from Auburn's recent recruiting successes have appeared to transition well and to live up to the hype or exceed it -- giving a lot of hope for 2012 and 2013, if not 2011.
RCR: Finally, Gus Malzhan is a guy whose name is always mentioned during the offseason as the replacement to some recently fired coach. Do Auburn fans worry that much about Malzhan's potential departure, or do you think he'll stick around the plains if the success continues?
TWER: There's no doubt that Malzahn essentially spurning Maryland and Vanderbilt this past offseason gives Auburn fans hope that he'll stick around for at least a little while, and it certainly told them that he's on the Plains for more than just a championship. Auburn fans would like to think that he's not in too much of a hurry to leave, because in actuality, Malzahn is just a few years removed from coaching at the high school level, and because there's no question he'd like to see through a good bit of the careers of Mike Dyer and Keihl Frazier -- two guys from Arkansas that he has had relationships with for years. Malzahn will leave for a head coaching gig probably sooner than later, but it won't be until the right big-time job presents itself at the right time -- a patience he might learn to have from Gene Chizik, and his rough time at Iowa State. Until then, Malzahn will enjoy having free reign over his offense and its recruiting, and one of the nation's largest assistant salaries, for a couple more years.