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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Looking Forward: Offense Part 1

Auburn in the final BCS Championship. photo by Klell Lawrence

We started this series by looking at Auburn's head coach Gus Malzahn, and what he has accomplished in his short time here on the Plains. Now we turn our thoughts toward the offense, and try to predict just how well our Tigers will perform on the field, when they have possession of the football.

The coaches in charge of this side of the ball are:
Offensive Coordinator - Rhett Lashlee
Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers - Dameyune Craig
Running Backs - Tim Horton
Tight Ends/Special Teams - Scott Fountain
Offensive Line - J.B. Grimes

Gus Malzahn's offense is mostly described inaccurately as a spread offense. Reality is, it's a downhill rushing attack based off the old "Wing T" that has formation wrinkles, and the addition of speeding up the pace of play. 

The formation wrinkles create leverage for blocking on these designed run plays, and try to draw the defense into the "box". Meaning, he wants to have defenders creeping closer to the line of scrimmage, so that it will open up the passing game for passes down field.

We will look at that rushing game from a personnel perspective, and try to peer into the future to see what to expect in the upcoming season.

Auburn lost three starters from an offense that led the entire country in rushing average per game at 328.29 yards per game, and a 6.30 yards per carry, while scoring 48 TD's on the ground. The heart of that rushing attack starts on the line, and then is carried out by the Running Backs.

The three Auburn starters that won't be returning are directly related to that production. H-Back Jay Prosch was the bulldozer and left tackle Greg Robinson was a monster on the field. Robinson has earned very high marks from the NFL scouts and draft guru's and is picked to be drafted as high as first overall in the April draft. 

Tre Mason, who became a Heisman finalist despite any real push by the athletics department, was the work horse for the ground attack. Mason broke the SEC Championship rushing record, and set an all time Auburn yardage record at 1,816 yards along with 23 TD's.

All is not lost however, as the returning starters, and second team players will be more than talented enough to get the job done. In addition some JUCO help has been added to insure that their is zero drop off in talent. 

Two members of the Tigers 2010 offensive line class that are still with the team are Shon Coleman and Chad Slade. From the 2011 class Reese Dismukes. From the 2012 class Will Adams, Shane Callahan, Jordan Diamond, Alex Kozan, Robert Leff, Patrick Miller, and Avery Young. This group was ranked as the best offensive line class in the country for 2012. Add to that the 2013 class of Devonte Danzy, and Deon Mix. 

All of these guys have a full year under their belts in the offensive system, and the rigorous strength and conditioning program at Auburn under Ryan Russell  The Tigers have a very solid group to lead this rushing attack in the coming season.

The newest members of the offensive line are Xavier Dampeer, and Braden Smith.

Auburn has impressive depth at Running Back as well. Normally losing a player the caliber of Tre Mason to the draft is a recipe for rebuilding, but not at Running Back University! 

Returning players at this position include Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant, the QB Nick Marshall, and Iron Man Johnathan Ford. Combine their numbers, and it looks more like a video game than a college rushing attack. 

Marshall had 1,162 yards, Grant had 650 yards with a 10 yard average per carry. Artis-Payne had  609 yards with a 6.8 yard average, and Ford had only 73 yards but a 12.2 yard average in only one half of one game.

The expected workhorse for next season is thought to be Cameron Artis-Payne at tailback, but don't forget about the redshirt Freshman Peyton Barber. Barber has family that has played in the NFL, and was thought to be under valued in the recruiting process. the coaches expect really good things from Peyton Barber.

Add to the mix the newest Tigers at this position the bruiser from Prattville, AL Kamryn Pettway, and highly touted Racean (Roc) Thomas. Thomas is the highest rated RB to choose to play for Auburn in the last six years. To say there is excited anticipation to see this young man in Orange and Blue is an understatement.

The Tiger offense also utilizes several wide outs to carry the football, and this is likely to remain a staple in the future. There were no losses in the WR corps, and a couple of talented athletes were brought in with the latest recruiting cycle. We will dig deeper into this with our next installment that covers the passing game in more detail. 

Look for the offense to excel at running the ball once again next season. I wouldn't be surprised to see another duo of 1,000 yard rushing performances, with maybe a third added to the mix depending on how far Auburn goes into the new playoff system in place for next season.

War Eagle!
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