Auburn spring wrap

2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Onterio McCalebb, RB Mario Fannin, WR Darvin Adams, OT Lee Ziemba, C Ryan Pugh, LB Josh Bynes, LB Daren Bates, CB Neiko Thorpe

Key losses

QB Chris Todd, RB Ben Tate, TE Tommy Trott, DE Antonio Coleman, CB Walter McFadden

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Ben Tate (1,362 yards)

Passing: Chris Todd (2,612 yards)

Receiving: Darvin Adams* (997 yards)

Tackles: Josh Bynes* (104)

Sacks: Antonio Coleman (10)

Interceptions: Walter McFadden (6)

Spring answers

1. Newton named No. 1: Auburn went out and got Cameron Newton from the junior college ranks to be its quarterback, and Newton didn’t disappoint this spring. He’s a 6-6, 242-pound specimen who can both run and throw and quickly earned the confidence and trust of his teammates with the way he performed and diligently went about his business. Auburn coach Gene Chizik named Newton the Tigers’ No. 1 quarterback at the conclusion of the spring, and it’s going to be hard to wrest the job away from him.

2. Picking up the pace: If you think the Tigers played fast on offense last season, wait until you see them in 2010. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn wants to play even faster, keeping defenses off balance, and thinks he has the personnel in place to do that next season. It helps that it will be the second time through Malzahn’s system for most of these guys. If Newton responds in the fall the way the Auburn coaches think he will, look for the Tigers to delve even deeper into Malzahn’s playbook.

3. Bates moving up: Even though he didn’t practice this spring because of a bum shoulder, Daren Bates made a little news. The Tigers plan on moving him to a hybrid linebacker role after he earned Freshman All-SEC honors last season at safety. The idea is to get faster on defense, and Bates was one of the Tigers’ most aggressive tacklers last season. It’s also a way to build depth at linebacker, which was a huge problem a year ago. Bates is a quick learner. He proved that last season after arriving in August and starting all 13 games.

Fall questions

1. In a rush: Chizik says the Tigers have to be a better power running team next season. Who’s going to be the go-to guy at running back now that Ben Tate is gone? Senior Mario Fannin will get the first crack after bouncing around between receiver and running back the last two years. Onterio McCalebb is healthy again and more of a change-of-pace guy, while redshirt freshman Dontae Aycock has also shown some promise. And, oh yeah, coveted freshman signee Michael Dyer arrives this summer. The best news is that Auburn returns four of five starters in the offensive line.

2. Defensive depth: The Tigers simply didn’t have the numbers nor the depth a year ago to play consistent defense for 12 games, which is a big reason why they lost five of their last six SEC games. They should be a little deeper next season, especially when everybody from the 2010 signing class gets on campus. Still, there are concerns. It’s never ideal to count on true freshmen, which means players such as sophomore linebacker Eltoro Freeman and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Nosa Eguae need to come through in a big way next season.

3. Walking wounded: The Tigers have three veteran safeties returning from serious injuries – Mike McNeil, Aairon Savage and Zac Etheridge. There’s a chance all three could come back and make major contributions, and there’s also a chance that they won’t ever be able to get back to where they once were. Savage has missed the last two seasons because of injuries, and Etheridge had a scary neck injury last season. Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof is hopeful on all three, but will reserve judgment once he sees them on the field in the fall.