April 15, 2013

Personnel picture taking shape

AUBURN | We're now into the home stretch of Auburn's spring practice period and the time has arrived for gaining some insight into how things will operate this fall.

Have some starters been found? Absolutely.

Are there still plenty of questions? Well, yeah, absolutely. Coaches are enthusiastic about the class they signed in February, though they're privately offering the usual caveats about freshmen in the Southeastern Conference. Nothing can be assumed until the third week of fall camp.

That's still fourth months away.

Still, there are some intriguing developments that deserve attention.

Jaylon Denson should be on your 'sleeper' list. He's been working at the "9" (outside) receiver spot along with Sammie Coates. Despite a pretty quiet career to this point, Denson has impressed observers with his play-making ability and general utility. He can block, catch, run sharp routes and shows plenty of aptitude. He may not be the star this fall, but Denson has a chance to catch 25 balls this fall as Terrell Zachery 2.0.

Robenson Therezie has found a home. It's probably a bit frustrating in light of Justin Garrett's remarkable acclimation to the hybrid position, but at least the staff knows where Therezie fits now. He's a phenomenal talent -- a thick, compact hitter with excellent acceleration -- but he doesn't have the coverage intuition needed at cornerback. At the hybrid spot, Therezie can be a hell-on-wheels pass rusher and an addition to the Tigers' ability to tackle in the open field. I expect Ellis Johnson to design packages that allow Garrett and Therezie to play concurrently.

I'm even less sure about the next step at quarterback. My thought two weeks ago was that Nick Marshall, the cornerback-turned-quarterback from Georgia, would be the eventual winner of the sweepstakes. Now I'm confused. Observers seem to agree that Jonathan Wallace has been better during scrimmages this spring, which likely gives him an advantage over Kiehl Frazier. Considering the intricacies of this offense, specifically the emphasis on quick decisions, I don't see how a newcomer can be ready for the Washington State game. Getting into the flow of this attack requires a bunch of repetitions. That's a threshold Marshall and freshman Jeremy Johnson won't get until September -- at the earliest. I'm not writing anyone off, but I have to believe one of the guys in camp right now will start the first game.

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