Thursday, March 26, 2009
Countdown to Spring Nos. 2, 1: Injuries; DUH
2. Can Auburn get through spring practice without any serious injuries?
To some extent, this is a question that could apply to every program in the country. It's not Pete Carroll is going to have a defensive lineman rupture an Achilles in a spring drill and just shrug it off.
But for this Auburn team, avoiding the kind of injuries in the spring that could be issues in the fall is critical. The Tigers might be able to weather a torn ACL at running back (where I'd like to think McCalebb could step in for Fannin without too much problem) or wide receiver (where all parts seem to be virtually interchangeable), but anywhere else? Uh, no. I don't even want to consider a loss along the offensive line, at defensive tackle, in the secondary, or even at linebacker--sure, Auburn's had LBs like they've grown on trees for years, but I keep looking at the depth chart and expecting to find someone I'm comfortable with behind Bynes or Stevens, and they're still not there. Hell, one of the names that does pop up is Adam Herring, and he was apparently already getting medical attention Tuesday night.
Turning around a situation as dire as "2-6 in the SEC, with wins via missed Bulldog FG in Starkville and fumble recovery for touchdown vs. Tennessee" odesn't just require good coaching, good players, good execution, all that stuff that actually relates to playing football. It also requires healthy doses of pure leprechaun-level luck, too. The spring injury list (and possible subsequent presence of, say, Vance Smith in the starting lineup) is a crucial indicator for whether 2009 Auburn is going to have that kind of luck, or is going to have to battle uphill every single step of the way.
1. Gee, whaddya think is the No. 1 issue confronting Auburn during the spring?
To paraphrase an old political line about the economy: It's the quarterbacks, stupid.
I'm not sure what I've got to add here that hasn't been duly covered elsewhere. If Gus Malzahn truly is going to pick one quarterback and stick with him, and the entire Spread Eagle house of cards depends on the performance of whoever that quarterback happens to be, clearly the process of choosing that quarterback is as important a process as spring practice could possibly give us. Everything else is secondary, pretty much by definition.
If I had to take a guess at how that process will play out ... well, I've already made it pretty clear I think it's Burns, and with Todd still rehabbing that shoulder and Trotter still something of an unknown I think we might see a Neil Caudle renaissance.
But the bottom line is that it doesn't really matter which of the QBs takes the reins: it's about finding one who Malzahn believes is worthy of doing so. I'd suggest, too, that the winner of this little quarterbacking derby use the spring to cement themselves in the position as firmly as he possibly can--I remain skeptical Tyrik Rollison will arrive on campus this fall as planned, but after another round of optimistic Facebook updates on his academic status, at the very least it's safe to say he's taking this qualification thing seriously.
I would not expect Rollison to come in and become the starter as a true freshman, but at the same time: was there anything Burns or Todd (or, of course, Trotter or Caudle) did last year that Rollison likely couldn't do this fall? No. I'm not sure it's enough for anyone on the current roster to just win the job this spring--it's about genuinely making that job their own in a way it never was in 2008, because if Rollison qualifies, I don't think being the starter by default will be enough.