Auburn Tigers spring wrap

2012 record: 3-9

2012 conference record: 0-8

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Tre Mason, C Reese Dismukes, DE Dee Ford, DT Angelo Blackson, CB Chris Davis, S Demetruce McNeal

Key losses

RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, DE Corey Lemonier, LB Daren Bates

2012 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Tre Mason* (1,002 yards)

Passing: Kiehl Frazier* (753 yards)

Receiving: Emory Blake (789 yards)

Tackles: Daren Bates (94)

Sacks: Dee Ford* (6)

Interceptions: Daren Bates, Trent Fisher* (1)

Spring answers

1. Getting defensive: Veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson implemented his 4-2-5 scheme this spring, and the early returns were promising. The real test will come in the fall, but there’s every reason to believe the Tigers will be significantly better on defense in 2013 after finishing 13th in the league in total defense a year ago. There’s depth up front. Senior end Dee Ford had a terrific spring, and Johnson likes the way his cornerbacks, led by senior Chris Davis, lock down on receivers.

2. Garrett emerges: One of the most pleasant surprises of the spring for the Tigers was junior Justin Garrett’s emergence at the “Star” position. Garrett had not done a lot previously as a linebacker, but possessed the combination of size and speed to slide into that hybrid linebacker/safety role that’s become a staple of Johnson’s defenses. The 6-1, 214-pound Garrett can cover well enough to match up in the slot, but also has the muscle to hold up in run support.

3. Catching on: There really hasn’t been a vertical passing game to speak of on the Plains for the last two seasons. But this group of receivers provided new hope this spring. Sophomore Ricardo Louis could be on the verge of a breakout season. Junior Jaylon Denson flew in under the radar and impressed with his consistency this spring, while juniors Quan Bray and Trovon Reed and sophomore Sammie Coates all have big-play potential.

Fall questions

1. Settling on a quarterback: It was a struggle at quarterback the whole way last season with true freshman Jonathan Wallace finishing up as the starter. Now, the spring has come and gone under new coach Gus Malzahn, and the Tigers are still not sure who their quarterback will be in the fall. Kiehl Frazier and Wallace are locked in a dead heat. They combined to throw six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions last season. Newcomer Nick Marshall, who played defensive back at Georgia, might have a chance to get into the mix when he arrives this summer.

2. Adjusting to the pace: Auburn spent much of spring practice getting used to Malzahn’s dizzying pace on offense. There’s no such thing as playing too fast in Malzahn’s world, and it takes some getting used to. He wants to play even faster than the Tigers did when he was the offensive coordinator from 2009-11. Settling on the right quarterback will be a big part of that, but equally important will be settling on the right five offensive linemen and making sure they’re in tune both physically and mentally with Malzhan’s hurry-up approach.

3. Rising from the ashes: Malzahn has said repeatedly that the Tigers are moving on and not rehashing what did or didn’t happen last season when they failed to win a game in the SEC and completely tanked at the end of the season. Those kind of collapses are hard to get out of your mind, even with an entirely new coaching staff onboard. Five of the first six games are at home, which could come in handy. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers respond when they hit their first patch of adversity.