Auburn enters the 2017 season believing it has one of the most talented rosters in the SEC. With nearly every position group in a better situation than it was a year ago, Auburn looks to be more talented, deeper and more experienced at every level.
The confidence coach Gus Malzahn at SEC Media Days said it all as he compared the fight and hunger of his team to that of his 2013 Tigers, which lost in the national title game.
With a lot of certainty about the team, Auburn still has three tasks it must complete in preseason camp, which began Monday.
1. Find a starting quarterback
The skinny: Jarrett Stidham is the presumed favorite to win the starting job, but the coaching staff claims that Sean White, last season’s starter, still has a chance despite missing spring practice.
An advantage for Stidham is White’s inability to stay healthy. Stidham has been the main story ever since announcing that he would transfer to Auburn at the end of 2016, and he will continue to generate talk until the end of the season, regardless of his performance.
Stidham has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches, and the competition between the two should force both combatants to be better as the season opener in Jordan-Hare Stadium draws near.
2. Find a punter
The skinny: Punter probably is Auburn’s biggest toss-up this fall. Kevin Phillips was the punter last season but has graduated. Sophomore Ian Shannon has been given opportunities to seize the role but has failed to capitalize to the coaches’ liking.
Star K Daniel Carlson is the other option. He kicked and punted during his freshman season and handled both duties during Auburn’s spring game, but it is safe to assume that Auburn would prefer Carlson to just handle the kicking duties in 2017.
Last season, Shannon punted three times, with an average of just 30.7 yards per punt.
3. Develop depth in the secondary
The skinny: Auburn has talent at every position and looks to have the needed depth at each unit except the secondary. While cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Javaris Davis possess a noticeable upside, the guys behind them have yet to show up in key situations during their time on the Plains.
John Broussard appears to be the third corner. Another option is Jamel Dean, but he has not shown the coaching staff anything of late after injuring his knee last season.
At safety, Tray Matthews leads the way with Stephen Roberts and Jeremiah Dinson. But after that trio, there are questions. Options include Thomas Daniel, who had two interceptions against Alabama in the Iron Bowl last season, and Nick Ruffin, who has yet to see substantial action.
(You can follow Zac Blackerby on Twitter @Zblackerby)
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