Monday, June 22, 2009

5 Auburn players who will have ... interesting 2009s

Whither Eric Smith?

So this morning I'm looking over the spring Auburn depth chart to try and gauge exactly how likely it is Harris Gaston sees the field this year--50/50 at least, I'd say, with some combination of two-star redshirt Da'Shaun Barnes, safety transplant Marcus Jemison, and Adam Herring (whose two tackles in his redshirt freshman season tied him with Tommy "Not a Tackling Tight End" Trott) the only thing standing between Gaston and a spot on the two-deep--and it occurs to me there are several under-the-radar players on that depth chart that are poised to either cement themselves as key building blocks for the first few seasons of the Gene Chizik era ... or as the kinds of players that are going to be overtaken and overlooked as the new staff brings in fresh recruits and moves towards the future. It might not be fair to call 2009 a "make-or-break" season for them; as Tez Doolittle would tell you, sometimes it's never too late to "make." But they'll definitely make a move one way or the other, either coming closer to the top of the depth chart heap or leave themselves with an even more difficult climb. There won't be any running in place for them, that much seems assured. Here's five of them:

1. Eric Smith, RB, Soph. No doubt he'd tell you he couldn't care less, but I for one would forgive Smith for following the recruitment of Marcus Lattimore more closely than most. With Ben Tate set to graduate, Auburn's power-back role (as opposed to the speed-back role currently occupied by Onterrio McCalebb) could be up-for-grabs if Mario Fannin becomes entrenched in the H-back position. Smith flashed enough potential in the season opener against UL-Monroe that he might be able to seize that spot by the throat if he can earn--and capitalize on--Tate's leftover power-back carries this fall. He didn't earn that "Little Rudi" nickname in last year's fall camp for nothin'.

But that's easier said than done, since Dontae Aycock seems likely to have something to say about it and Fannin could just as easily handle them himself. And if Smith doesn't make his move now, he might never get a chance to make it, since Aycock should only improve and--not to get too far ahead of ourselves, of course--Lattimore's talent would hypothetically demand plenty of carries from the moment he stepped on campus. And all of that is just examining things from the power-back angle--if McCalebb or Demond Washington prove too explosive to ignore in favor of the bruisers, that's even fewer carries to go around. Smith only received 12 carries the remainder of the year after picking up 9 in the 2008 opener. If that happens again this fall, we might see him draw even fewer in 2010.

2. Zach Clayton, DE/DT, Jr.
Oh Lord, have mercy on the 'tweeners of the world. You would think that a team's second-leading pass rusher and second-leading returning tackler-for-loss wouldn't have a problem finding a starting spot on a defensive line that just lost two starters ... but there we are, with Clayton once again expected to be second-string behind Jake Ricks and Mike Blanc at tackle and Antonio Coleman and Michael Goggans at end. It's a hard, unfair life being slightly smaller than the coaches would like at tackle and slightly slower than the coaches would like at end.

Of course, Clayton should still see plenty of time--you wouldn't think any player who was as productive as Clayton was in fairly limited snaps last year would just ride pine. At the very least, he should be the first tackle off the bench on passing downs, and with both Coleman and Ricks set to move on a starting role as a senior seems in the offering. Then again: everyone loves Nick Fairley, and Blanc and Ricks were getting raves in the spring. And at end, with Cam Henderson emerging in the spring and Antoine Carter (surely) due for a healthier season than in 2008, snaps in which Clayton could prove himself could be scarcer than last season. If Clayton's ever going to prove himself more than a pass-rush specialist, now's the time.

3. Wes Byrum, K, Jr.
Assuming Cody Parkey's as solid a commitment as we all believe him to be, in 2010 Auburn will be bringing in that rarest of breeds, a four-star kicker. (Like scientists and their coelocanths, I'm frankly surprised such things even exist.) It's pretty simple for Byrum, really: prove he's back to his cold-blooded 2008 form, or expect Auburn's coaches to go with the devil they don't know over the erratic one they do.

4. Darvin Adams, WR, So. If I'd been Googling recruits back in 2008, I'd have made note of a weird disconnect in Adams' rankings--to Rivals he was a solid prospect, a top-50 WR just a shade under the four-star cutoff. To Scout and ESPN he was nothing of the sort, the No. 116 and 90 WR, respectively.

I mention that because a year and a spring later, we're still not really any closer to finding out which of those two viewpoints was more accurate. On the one hand, Adams landed on a team starved for any kind of production at wide receiver and finished with all of three catches on the season, or one fewer than fellow true frosh (and even less guru-approved) Derek Winter. On the other, Adams was supposed to be a raw prospect, a lanky former high school quarterback who needed some time to best learn how to put his 6-3, 185-pound frame to use. If the potential Rivals saw in Adams is there--and his performance in the spring game was certainly a positive omen--maybe he'll finally become the recruiting hit the final years of the Tubby regime swung and whiffed on so many times. If Adams winds up buried again behind the likes of Winter, raging disappointment Terrell Zachery, fellow toothpick Quindarius Carr, to say nothing of converted corner Harry Adams or the incoming freshmen ... well, it might be time to chalk it up as yet another miss.

5. Bart Eddins, OL, Jr. Does anyone here think the Auburn starting offensive line is going to play the entire season ... every game, every start, every important snap? Anyone? You guys, there in the back, you? ... Didn't think so.

Which means someone's going to have to come off the bench and not trip over their own feet taking the field. As Eddins has actually, you know, been an offensive lineman last season (as opposed to Vance Smith or A.J. Greene) and actually played, however briefly, in most of Auburn's games (11 of 12, unlike Jared Cooper or Rudy Odom or Darrell Roseman) you have to think that person would be Eddins. It helps that Eddins has some physical ability, in theory at least--he had some surprisingly major recruiting hype as a defensive tackle prospect in the class of 2006. It's possible that between that potential first-guy-off-the-bench role and a starting gig next year (or this year) when Andrew McCain moves on (or can't hack it), he could still live up to all of that despite the injuries and slow start.

But on a team this wretchedly thin, if PLEASE NO PLEASE KNOCK ON A THOUSAND PIECES OF WOOD someone goes down--particularly one of the guards or centers--and someone besides Eddins wedges his way into the line, the handwriting on the wall won't be able to get too much clearer.

1 comment:

J.D. said...

I, for one, hope Wes Byrum goes back to his coldblooded 2007 ways, not his 2008 ways.