Break out the kazoos, Auburn fans--the long, tortuous offseason of "news" cycles solely devoted to Limo Gambits, recruiting, billboards, recruiting, injury rumors, and recruiting has come to a close. Live practice starts in Auburn this evening. The players taking that practice field will be the 2009 Auburn football team, a thing that will exist in actuality for the first time. Truly, our long journey without college football is almost at an end.
We can tell this because yesterday we learned various important things about the 2009Auburn football team that will exist as of tonight. News arrives, as always, via Jay Tate, Andy Bitter, Charles Goldberg, and this snippet fom Phillip Marshall. To sum:
--The start of a new season following a disastrous one and the arrival of a new coaching staff in the wake of the previous regime is always going to result in a number of "Things used to suck. But now, everything's awesome!" quotes and stories.
But the vehemence with which Auburn's players spoke of the difficulties faced last year still has an edge that I think speaks to how rotten things got in the state of Auburn's Denmark last year. When one of your senior leaders describes your own locker room, practice field, etc. as a "battlefield," yeah, that's not so good. The proverbial fresh start isn't the universal salve it's sometimes made out to be--Mike Sherman ofering Texas A&M a fresh start hasn't worked out so well to date, right?--but man, hearing Tate and McFadden talk and thinking back to the opening of practice last season and the bevy of fights, transfers, and injuries ... it's kind of hard not to think this might be what's best for Auburn, you know?
--As for the cadre of signees who continue to await word from the NCAA Clearinghouse...
Auburn did of course get some good news from the Clearinghouse, as Demond Washington is now safely in the fold. Amongst the five remaining limbo dwellers--Washington, Paige, Coleman, Jackson Bates--you could make the argument that Washington's versatility, punt return skills, and potential at cornerback made him the most critical one of the five to get through the Clearinghouse briar patch. Particularly with Paige now looking unlikely to qualify, Washington provides some well-needed security in the secondary.
That said ... eh, Auburn could have hoped for some better news overall. If none of the other four make it this will be another Auburn class you could fairly describe as "wracked" by academic flameouts--seven total in a class of 29 (Phillips included) is a lot of casualties--and Coleman in partciular would have been a huge help on a defensive tackle depth chart that still goes four strong in Blanc, Ricks, Fairley, and Clayton and has precious, precious little behind them.
Worse, it now appears that Bates is the only one of the remaining four whose qualification chances are "decent" or better--and despite Bates's lack of hype, this would be a big boost for a class that otherwise is a near total bust in the secondary. Elsewhere, I'm hopeful, but this late in the game I'm not counting on Coleman, Paige, or Jackson to make it.
--Not that we needed any more evidence that the new staff is driven to field five colossi on the offensive line, but that Lee Ziemba--never exactly light in the pants, being a tackle and all--has added 35 pounds since December is, well, even more evidence.
--Newcomers the veterans have praised that I'm not surprised to hear get praised: Blake, Benton, Fairley. Newcomer that surprises me a bit: Nosa Eguae. It's one thing to hear coaches rave about his intelligence and work ethic. It's another to hear it from Craig Stevens. Also worth noting that Caudle also singled out Travante Stallworth.
--Uh-oh: Mike McNeil still isn't 100 percent and according to Zac Etheridge (via Tate) spent the summer coaching rather than working out. Sounds like McNeil should still be ready by the time the season rolls around, but good news on the development of Mike Slade, T'Sharvan Bell, and Drew Cole would be most, most welcome.
--Gabe McKenzie's return has been confirmed. Despite not being particularly surprising, it's excellent news: if Malzahn's as serious about running the ball as we're hoping he is, Auburn's going to need at least one tight end who can block ... and while Tommy "Almost a Blocking Tight End But Still Not Really" Trott has made some strides the last couple of seasons, with Vance Smith on the line McKenzie's still the only TE Auburn has that really can.
--Back tomorrow with the reports from first practice.