Auburn opens fall football camp as deep as ever

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUBURN, Ala. -- Byron Isom and Ryan Pugh will see two comforting sights when they look around Auburn's practice field: Familiar coaches and bodies. Plenty of bodies.

The Tigers open fall camp on Wednesday with nearly the full allotment of 85 scholarship players and the only coaching staff in the Southeastern Conference that returned intact from last season.

"Everywhere we're deeper," said Isom, one of four senior starters on the offensive line. "That's always been a problem around here, lack of depth. But it doesn't look like it's going to be a problem this year."

Coaching turnover has been another issue. This is the second time in 10 seasons that both the offensive and defensive coordinators are around for back-to-back years for Auburn.

It has created more of a comfort zone heading into coach Gene Chizik's second year as head coach.

"That's probably the most exciting thing, being able to play for the same coaches on both sides of the ball," Pugh, a senior center, said. "It's the first time it's happened since we've been here."

There were no unexpected absences on Wednesday, but two signees weren't on hand. Receiver Jeremy Richardson is enrolled at a junior college while offensive lineman Shon Coleman has been battling cancer and wasn't expected to report.

The Tigers have fewer position battles than last season, especially with junior college transfer Cameron Newton emerging from spring as the No. 1 quarterback after enrolling in January.

-- Junior college transfers Brandon Mosley and Roszell Gaydon will continue to battle for the right tackle spot after going through spring practice.

-- Freshman Michael Dyer, one of the nation's top-rated running back prospects, will join the mix for playing time in the backfield behind Mario Fannin. Fannin emerged from the spring as heir apparent to Ben Tate.

-- Redshirt freshman Nosa Eguae and senior Michael Goggans are vying at defensive end opposite Antoine Carter.

-- Safeties Aairon Savage -- a former Westover star --- Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil are all former starters who are coming back from serious injuries.

-- Onetime starter Ryan Shoemaker is battling freshman Steven Clark for punting duties.

Auburn also has plenty of room for four linebacker signees and several incoming defensive linemen to make their way into thin spots.

"They're fast learners, so we're really going to need them this year," Carter, who is replacing Antonio Coleman, said of the line newcomers. "As far as us getting our rest, I think they're going to play a big part in that. They're coming in with a good mindset of playing."

He said summer workouts left him impressed with end Corey Lemonier and tackle Jeff Whitaker, especially.

"I like Corey. He kind of reminds me of myself," Carter said. "I like his speed and his aggressiveness. Jeff Whitaker, he has potential. All of them have potential."

Another candidate for early playing time among newcomers is freshman receiver Trovon Reed, one of the top signees. The Tigers have established receivers in Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery but no proven wideouts behind them. Fannin was the No. 2 receiver last year, and he's moved back to tailback.

Reed has made an impression on Newton.

"Since the first day, Trovon has come in and pretty much kicked the door down with me seeing his talent," the quarterback said. "Usually freshmen come in and try to do everything other than try to get better, but Trovon consistently (says), 'Hey man let's go throw. Hey man, let's go do this. What's this, what's that?' He's always a gnat to learn something new in this offense. With that attitude, a player like that will be great."

Newton also derives comfort from the line, the most experienced part of the team.

"I feel protected," he said. "With guys that have already been in the offense a year before I even came, they know the protections, they know the schemes. Especially with them coming up to me and telling me they have trust in me. That plays a big role in the psyche of a player. With me knowing that in the back of my head, the sky's the limit."