First, disclaimers: I’m not saying that the players listed below are bound for unproductive seasons or seats on the bench. I’m not saying that their spring performance has been “disappointing.” I’m not writing them off. Real insight into what’s going on in Auburn’s spring practices has been so hard to come by, and actual information that hasn’t been filtered through the quotes of coaches/players by writers/bloggers/whoever has been so scarce that I wouldn’t advise anyone to draw any definitive conclusions about the 2010 season from what we’ve seen this spring. (Aside from “Cam Newton will be the starting quarterback.” That much you can conclude.)
That said … it can’t be a good thing if you’re an Auburn player who’s managed to go through the entire spring without inspiring a single quote of praise, or popping up with some kind of positive play in the scrimmage reports, or having some insider somewhere say how good you looked … can it? Invisibility isn’t an automatic negative, but it’s sure not a positive, either.
So here are five Auburn players whose anonymity these past few weeks is, at the very least, cause for concern:
1. Kodi Burns, WR. Of course, just as I’m starting this post, we find out Kodi came up with his first scrimmage TD of the spring today. And if the team’s ignoring the Wildcat entirely this spring, obviously that’s going to hamper the profile of the guy whose primary job is to run it.
Still, though: we’ve heard great things from Trooper Taylor about Emory Blake. And DeAngelo Benton. And Ralph Spry. And Phillip Pierre-Louis. And Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery, of course. In fact, we’ve heard praise for just about every healthy receiver on the roster … except Burns. (Well, Burns and Derek Winter, but poor Winter’s been at the bottom of Taylor’s depth chart since the day Taylor arrived.)
To say this is quite a change from the past two springs–during which Burns was the favorite to become the starting quarterback–is to drastically understate things. Here’s to hoping for his sake that Burns holds onto his Wildcat job, because it just seems too sad (to this admitted Kodi apologist, anyway) for a career that started with such promise to end as a little-used backup slot receiver … which is where Kodi’s tenure as a receiver seems headed right now, unfortunately.
2. Neiko Thorpe, CB. There’s been a lot of attention paid to the secondary this spring, what with Demond Washington grabbing picks all over the place, Ikeem Means making his Bates-esque ascent up the depth chart ladder, T’Sharvan Bell making the switch to corner, Mike McNeil and Aairon Savage returning from injury, etc. Even Anthony Gulley-Morgan got some love from Ted Roof today (not to mention the press from his name change).
All of that attention … and none of it focused on the guy I’d have expected to be the leader of the 2010 Auburn secondary. (At least until Zac Etheridge returned.) Maybe this is just Thorpe quietly going about his business. But the conventional wisdom seems to be tilting towards Washington as Auburn’s top corner, and that would be quite a shock for a player with as much talent and experience as Thorpe.
UPDATE: Multiple commenters have suggested Thorpe has been slowed by a serious thumb injury. (Or, at least, a thumb injury as serious as thumb injuries get.) Obviously, we’ll get some confirmation Saturday if/when he doesn’t play. Disregard the above as necessary.
3. Dontae Aycock, RB. As with Thorpe, we don’t know Aycock’s had an indifferent spring. We do know he’s gotten his share of reps, that he’s been primarily at tailback rather than H-back, that he’s gotten his shot at wedging his way into the rotation.
But we don’t have any evidence he’s done enough with it. Most of the great Auburn running backs of the past have started building buzz long before they hit the field; hell, even Onterio McCalebb managed it last spring. If Michael Dyer proves to be as good as advertised, this might have been Aycock’s best chance at creating that buzz, and we just haven’t heard much of it. It’s been Fannin and McCalebb have been the guys coming away from scrimmages claiming the long touchdown runs and lion’s share of the carries.
Aycock always had a challenge ahead of him making his mark in a backfield this loaded. At this point, that challenge still looks as substantial as ever.
4. The senior defensive linemen. Practice-wise, there’s probably no unit less visible under the current Auburn regime than the defensive line. Big plays like TD passes and picks get recorded, the linebackers serve as the defense’s spokespeople, the running backs are spotlighted because they’re Auburn running backs, Taylor is always willing to talk about the receivers while Rocker’s barely made an appearance all spring, etc. The entire spring set-up all but ensures that the defensive line is going to fly under the radar.
But man, do we want them this far under the radar? Has a single word been said or written about Mike Blanc the entire spring? Antoine Carter had that strip of Newton in the first scrimmage–where’s he been the rest of the time? Has something been written about Michael Goggans other than “competing with Nosa Eguae” that I’ve missed somewhere? At least Zach Clayton has an excuse–he’s believed to be injured.
As for the other guys, it’s probably just the cost of being a defensive linemen. But seeing as how Auburn’s defensive improvement has to start up front, I sure wish they’d found a way to make a little more noise anyway.
5. Eric Smith, H-B. Smith’s actually gotten a little more press than the other players on this list, what with Malzahn saying some nice things about a week ago and his name surfacing alongside Lutzenkirchen’s in the discussion of what the hell position Lutz was actually going to play.
Still, though, I’m with Jay Tate in thinking that for a guy with as much talent as Smith has and as much experience as he gained last year, he’s been strangely out of the limelight this spring. Some of that is probably that the coaches don’t want him in front of the press–assault, grades, etc.–but I have to wonder if there’s more to it. With Smith’s combination of hands, strength, and blocking ability, I’d be stunned if he didn’t see a ton of time this fall … but every other skill position candidate has gotten their name in the paper the past few weeks. Why hasn’t Smith?
Now, at A-Day all of these players will star and I’ll look silly. But until then, I think we’ve got something to think about.