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July 31, 2012

Reporting day: Auburn ready to kick off practice on Wednesday

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Auburn’s players have reported for the start of fall practice, and the Tigers, like most of the other teams around the country, are saying all the right things about opening day on Wednesday.

A few even decided to forego summer vacation to stay and prepare for the season.

“I stayed here in town,” Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “I didn’t go out of town. I was just looking forward to getting back. I passed by here today and I saw the field getting set up.”

All but two of the incoming freshman have been on campus for the better part of the month, meaning that Auburn could work out as a full team in the annual “captain’s practices” held over the summer.

Auburn’s captains liked what they saw.

Contrary to last year, the team brought a workmanlike approach to the summer sessions, and the older players expect that approach to pay off in a big way.

“We needed it,” T’Sharvan Bell said. “We’re going to be ahead of where the coaches expect us to be at this point. They were the best we’ve had since I’ve been here for sure.”

Auburn will start to find out what the coaches think when they hit the practice field tomorrow.

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  •  Onterio McCalebb, the running back who is perpetually trying to gain weight, came into camp weighing 177 pounds. “I try to get bigger, but we’re always running,” McCalebb said.
  • McCalebb also hinted that his role will change as a senior, so that he can be used more on the outside in the passing game. “You’ll see a lot of different stuff this year,” McCalebb said.
  • T’Sharvan Bell is healthy and ready to go. “”Full speed. No holding back,” Bell said. “”I’m definitely a lot better physically than I was in the spring.”
  • All the older guys were asked about younger guys helping out immediately. One name came to mind out of the three new defensive backs. ”Jonathan Jones, whoa, he’s fast,” Bell said. “He’s fast. He’s going to be able to help us on special teams big-time. But as far as cornerback or defensive back, one guy being ahead of the other, they all came in eager to learn and picked it up pretty fast.”
  • Bell, echoing what Tre Mason said a couple of weeks ago, also pointed out wide receiver Ricardo Louis. “Ricardo Louis,” Bell said. “He’s got talent. He can do it all, he just needs to be polished up.”
  • Daren Bates had a couple of other freshmen he liked right away, including a name at Auburn’s most heated position battle. “Jovon Robinson,” Bates said. “I watch him run his routes and run the ball. He runs it hard and downhill. That just stood out to me the most out of everybody.”
  • Phenix City native Jonathan Wallace also caught Bates’s eye. “Even the freshman quarterback, you see that he can be the leader in the near future, the way he can go out and operate even with the veterans on the offense,” Wallace said. “They might mess up and he’ll be the first one to try to correct them. I like that.”
  • As Auburn’s leading returning tackler, Bates expects to have a big role in the defense this season, saying that new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has unleashed him. “I think this year I’ll probably make more tackles than last year,” Bates said. “He’s given me the opportunity to make these plays that you have to make. Giving me more blitzes.”
  • Bates also said the team isn’t buying into the expectations, which are middle-of-the-pack in the SEC West. “They said the same thing last year, they said we were going to win like four games or whatever,” Bates said. “We don’t pay attention to that because we know what we can do, what type of athletes we have, what type of players we have. All we have to do is go out there and play the games and it speaks for itself.”
  • Nosa Eguae says he welcomes Auburn’s improved depth on the defensive line. “It’s about competition,” Eguae said. “That’s what this is about. We haven’t had this type of depth on the defensive line and offensive line since I’ve been here and since this coaching staff’s been here. I’m looking forward to competing.”
  • Eguae won’t have to carry as big a load as he did last year, when Auburn faced a rash of injuries at the defensive end position. “Last year, midseason we had three defensive ends,” Eguae said. “It was me, Craig and Corey. And this year, at the defensive end spot, there’s six, seven or eight of us that can go out there and play. From a defensive end depth standpoint, nobody’s going to be asked to play 35-40 plays. Everybody’s going to be rolling, everybody’s going to be fresh, and I’m looking forward to it.”
  • Corey Lemonier wasn’t available, but he drew plenty of praise from Eguae. “He’s a freak, man,” Eguae said. “Just the sheer athleticism he has and coming off the ball. His get-off. The way he plays, he plays relentless. That’s what you look for in a defensive end.”
  • Jeffrey Whitaker’s weight is 306 and holding steady after he played at 320-plus pounds last year. “Got it where I wanted it — 306,” Whitaker said. “I’ve dropped 25-plus. I’m loving it. I got stronger and I feel great.”
  • Gabe Wright and Kenneth Carter are ready to go after missing the spring due to injury. “Both healthy,” Whitaker said. “Gabe came back, he was running a little at the end of the summer. Ken has been doing great. Everybody is back.”

Video: Jeff Whitaker, T’Sharvan Bell, Daren Bates and Onterio McCalebb check in before the start of practice

For the record, I realize these videos aren’t up to the usual caliber. I was working out new equipment for the first time, and the transition did not go as well as I’d hoped. Beginning with the first day of practice, the videos will be back to their regularly-scheduled format.

Jeff Whitaker is excited about Auburn’s depth on the defensive line.

T’Sharvan Bell feels healthy and ready to go, and he’s got a couple of freshmen who he thinks might be able to help right away.

Daren Bates has more news on the freshmen. Also, this video looks the way it should, although the camera work is iffy.

Onterio McCalebb feels like he’s ready for an expanded role this season.

2012 Opponent Preview: Alabama A&M

Photo by Alabama A&M

The topsy-turvy SEC schedule, a slate that seems to start earlier every year, has pushed Auburn’s (arguably) easiest game back to the week before the Iron Bowl two seasons in a row. Between the brutal games that are occupied by Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers face off against another in-state FCS opponent, this time Alabama A&M instead of Samford.

Auburn spent a little time struggling with Samford last season before running away with it in the second half, but the Tigers expect to be much better by the time November comes around this year. For Alabama A&M, the game’s obviously an opportunity to get a paycheck, but it’s also a chance to get some in-state exposure on TV that the school rarely gets.

Whatever the final score looks like, it’s obvious what the Alabama A&M game is shaping up to be for Auburn. Another eye in the heart of a November storm.

For up-to-the-minute news and notes on Auburn football as practice begins this week, follow the blog on Twitter and Facebook.

Alabama A&M Bulldogs

  • Head coach: Anthony Jones (11th year, 72-45)
  • 2011 record: 9-4
  • Returning starters: 20 (11 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams)
  • Total offense: 334.08 ypg (81st, FCS)
  • Scoring offense: 20.17 ppg (97th)
  • Total defense: 311.83 ypg (17th)
  • Scoring defense: 18.50 ppg (9th)
  • Series: These two teams have never played.
  • Last time out:  These two teams have never played.

Outlook

Coming off of an appearance in the SWAC Championship Game, where Alabama A&M blew a 15-0 lead to Grambling before succumbing, the Bulldogs have plenty of experience returning to make another run at their sixth title-game appearance in 11 seasons.With 11 starters back on offense, Alabama A&M has the experience necessary to make some improvements on that side of the ball, although the defense may need some work with four key contributors gone off of one of FCS’s best units.

Proven commodity: Offense

Easy choice here, as Alabama A&M returns all 11 starters from an offense that sometimes struggled to score points a year ago. Even so, running back Kaderius Lacey is coming off of a 1,000-yard campaign, quarterback Deaunte Mason is a three-year starter and the entire line will have no problems gelling. Finding people to fill holes on the offensive side of the ball won’t be a problem for the Bulldogs; theoretically, there aren’t any holes.

On shaky ground: Offense

Rather than a position group, the part of Alabama A&M’s offense that needs work is its ability to punch the ball into the end zone after ranking 97th in the FCS at just over 20 points-per-game. Between Lacey and Mason, somebody has to become a proven touchdown producer, somebody who can get the tough yards when the Bulldogs get to the goal line. In a league where yards come at a premium, teams have to make the most of their opportunities.

Proven commodity: Defense

Outside linebacker Vernon Marshall, the team’s second-leading tackler in 2011, is back to help fill the void left by the departure of leading tackler Willie Fuller at inside linebacker. Despite losing players at every level, though, Alabama A&M should have enough depth to replace the open spots; the key will be how fast the Bulldogs gel on that side of the ball, and Marshall, a team leader, will be responsible for that process.

On shaky ground: Defense

With the loss of first team All-SWAC safety Rico Porch and cornerback Clarence Morris, Alabama A&M has a few holes to fill in the secondary heading into the 2012 season. Derrick Harris, Joshua Udeh, Chris Ervin and Jamel Morris are the guys slated to take over the starting roles in the secondary, but replacing Porch will not be easy.

July 30, 2012

2012 Opponent Preview: Georgia

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Auburn’s finishing stretch to almost every season is well known by Tigers fans. Like any good college football season should, the Tigers almost always end with their two biggest rivalries, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry and the Iron Bowl.

Now, in recent years, the schedule makers have put a nice little rest in between those two games, and the 2012 season is no different. But given Georgia’s status as the SEC East favorites and Alabama’s status as the defending national champs, the month of November should still be an awfully tough closing test for the Tigers.

Unlike last season, Auburn gets Georgia at home this season, along with a bunch of the big-time teams already covered in the blog’s walk through the schedule. But it’s hard to predict what games in late November will look like before two-a-days start. Big-time injuries, either to a specific player or a position group, could severely affect the game, although Georgia, as mentioned above, is expected to be a big-time contender to reach Atlanta for the second year in a row.

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Georgia Bulldogs

  • Head coach: Mark Richt (12th season, 106-38)
  • 2011 record: 10-4
  • Returning starters: 14 (5 offense, 9 defense)
  • Total offense: 408.50 ypg (39th, NCAA)
  • Scoring offense: 32.0 ppg (33rd)
  • Total defense: 277.21 ypg (5th)
  • Scoring defense: 20.57 ppg (23rd)
  • Series: Auburn leads 54-53-8
  • Last time out: Georgia 45, Auburn 7

Outlook

Most of the questions surrounding Georgia this season involve a slew of offseason arrests and subsequent suspensions, but the fallout from those off-the-field issues will likely be long gone by the time Auburn hosts the Bulldogs in mid-November. Losing Isaiah Crowell was a high-profile mishap, but the Columbus Carver product was only the lead back in a very deep stable, and incoming freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley were highly-rated players who could help ease the loss of Crowell.

Proven commodity: Offense

In quarterback Aaron Murray, Georgia might have the SEC’s best offensive weapon, depending on whether or not a fan prefers Murray or Arkansas star Tyler Wilson. Coming off of a year in which Murray racked up 3,149 yards and 35 touchdowns, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo knows he can unleash the passing game, which is led by a returning crew of wide receivers that is led by Tavarres King, who had 47 catches, deep threat Malcolm Mitchell and a host of others. Barring injury, Murray should be one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks again, and he will make Georgia’s play-action attack downright deadly, as Auburn fans will remember from last year.

On shaky ground: Offense

Protecting Murray in the vicious SEC — the nation’s best pass-rushing conference — will be a lot tougher without tackles Cordy Glenn and Justin Anderson, not to mention center Ben Jones. Georgia has plenty of depth and experience at guard, but finding somebody to replace the two bookends will be huge for a Bulldogs team that knows it has to keep Murray from facing constant pressure off the edges. Finding reliable blockers on the outside is a must for the Bulldogs. No quarterback can be effective if he’s under constant pressure all day long.

Proven commodity: Defense

Other than defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, Georgia’s entire front seven returns, led by All-American outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had 13.5 sacks in a breakout sophomore season, massive nose tackle John Jenkins and Tyson’s old bookend, Abry Jones. The key is another Carver graduate, Jarvis Jones, who might be the SEC’s best returning pass rusher and a force that could not be stopped at times last season. In defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s scheme, Jones will be all over the field, and while teams are trying to find him, the rest of the Bulldogs’ experienced front seven will be bearing down on opposing quarterbacks hard.

On shaky ground: Defense

Safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams were big-time playmakers for Georgia last season, but with Rambo, Sanders Commings and Branden Smith all facing suspensions for off-the-field indiscretions, the Bulldogs felt the need to move their most explosive wide receiver, Mitchell, over to the defense to help out in the back end. Granted, the secondary will have help from Georgia’s ferocious pass rush, but those guys have to come back strong after their suspensions to ensure the Bulldogs return to their top-five defensive ranking.

2012 Opponent Preview: New Mexico State

Photo by NMSU Athletics

After a regularly-scheduled break to throw up another post on an award watch list — seriously, college football may hand out too many trophies — it’s time to move on through Auburn’s 2012 football schedule, and the blog is starting to get awfully close to the end of Auburn’s 2012 schedule.

Now, the blog moves into November with Auburn’s second “cupcake” of the season in New Mexico State, a team picked to finish fourth in the WAC by the conference’s coaches this season. Other than the oddity of playing a team called the Aggies for the second week in a row, the biggest draw for Tigers fans has to be the fact that Auburn has designated the New Mexico State game as Homecoming.

As far as New Mexico State goes, the bet here is that most Auburn fans don’t know much about the Aggies. Hopefully, this post will help.

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New Mexico State Aggies

  • Head coach: DeWayne Walker (4th year, 9-29)
  • 2011 record: 4-9
  • Returning starters: 10 (5 offense, 3 defense, 2 special teams)
  • Total offense: 398.08 ypg (47th, NCAA)
  • Scoring offense: 24.54 ppg (79th)
  • Total defense: 462.15 ypg (112th)
  • Scoring defense: 36.77 ppg (112th)
  • Series: Auburn leads 2-0
  • Last time out: Auburn 55, New Mexico State 20* – *2007

Outlook

New Mexico State has made minor progress in Walker’s three years as head coach, but the Aggies face a heavy task in trying to take  the next step and take a bowl game this season. Almost every playmaker from 2011 graduated, leaving the Aggies with just eight starters left who don’t play exclusively on special teams. In a sport where experience matters more than almost anything, New Mexico State may struggle in the WAC, given the youth of a struggling program.

Proven commodity: Offense

The left side of the offensive line returns. Left tackle Davonte Wallace is a possible All-WAC candidate after making 24 starts the past two seasons, and left guard Maveu Hiemuli has been his running mate for most of that time. With three new starters at the other three offensive line spots, Wallace and Hiemuli will have to be rocks for New Mexico State’s offensive line to gel, and the Aggies need the big guys up front to make some waves for an unproven group of skill players. Only receivers Austin Franklin and Kemonte’ Bateman, who caught 34 and 26 passes in 2011, respectively, have some playing time under their belts.

On shaky ground: Offense

New Mexico State’s offense was built around departed 1,000-yard rusher Kenny Turner, who left a year early to take his shot at the NFL Draft. In his place, the likely replacement, Robert Clay, struggled against most defenses last season. Another junior college transfer, Akeelie Mustafa, may push Clay for the job, but if neither grabs control of the job, New Mexico State’s offense — which will feature a new starting quarterback, too — will sputter.

Proven commodity: Defense

Hard to find a proven commodity on one of the nation’s worst defenses, but defensive tackle Walton Taumoepeau has shown he can be a reliable starter after making 20 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss and two sacks. Given that New Mexico State returns only three starters, Taumopeau is going to have to be a rock up front while a bunch of new faces gel behind him.

On shaky ground: Defense

New Mexico State’s entire defense looks a little shaky heading into the 2012 season. As discussed above, the Aggies return only three starters off of an abysmal unit. To replenish talent, the Aggies hauled in as many junior college transfers as possible, but any team that’s breaking in eight new starters on defense is going to have some serious growing pains, and New Mexico State doesn’t have much of a base to build on after last year’s mediocre performance.

Auburn releases training camp schedule; Practice begins Aug. 1

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Football fans, have no fear.

Auburn’s 2012 season begins in earnest on Tuesday. The Tigers released their two-a-days schedule late Monday afternoon, including the open periods for the media to view and videotape practice.

Coming off of an 8-5 season and a win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Auburn’s tasks during two-a-days are plentiful, including finding a starting quarterback, a starting running back, learning new offensive and defensive schemes and identifying a two-deep depth chart from a bunch of players.

Freshmen won’t be available for interviews until Aug. 13.

All the practices are closed, with the exception of the first 20 minutes of selected practices, when the media will be allowed to be on the field, although cell phone use and tweeting is prohibited while the media is on the field.

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Auburn’s 2012 Training Camp Schedule

Tues, July 31:  Players Report

Wed, Aug 1:   First practice-shorts - Camera/media window: 3:55-4:15 pm

Thurs, Aug 2: Practice – shorts (begin 325) - Camera/media window: 325-345 pm

Fri, Aug 3: Practice – shells (begin 325) - Camera/media window: 325-345 pm

Sat, Aug 4: Practice – shells (begin 3:25)

Mon, Aug 6: Practice – first day in pads (begin 3:25) - Camera/media window: 3:25-3:45 pm

Tues, Aug 7: Two practices (shorts/pads) - Camera/media window: 10-10:20 am

Weds, Aug 8: Practice

Fri, Aug 10: Two practices (shorts/pads) - Camera/media window: 10-10:20 am

Sat, Aug 11: Practice

Sun, Aug 12:  Fan Day at Arena (2-4 pm)

Mon, Aug 13: Two practices (pads/shorts)

Wed., Aug 15:  Two practices                       

Thurs, Aug 16: Classes begin/evening practice

Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier named to Hendricks Award watch list

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Corey Lemonier’s breakout sophomore season has placed him on nearly every major watch list for an award, and the junior defensive end added another watch list to his array of possible awards on Monday, two days before Auburn opens two-a-days.

Lemonier started slowly in 2011, but he blossomed into a dynamic pass rusher in the middle of the season, posting 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles-for-loss and 15 quarterback hurries on a defensive line that failed to produce many sacks in 2011.

Only Lemonier had more than one sack for Auburn’s defensive line last season.

In an effort to improve his ability to stop the run, Lemonier has raised his weight to 250 pounds this offseason. He had 47 tackles for Auburn as a sophomore, but he has repeatedly said he’d like to be a more well-rounded player as a junior.

Lemonier’s Hendricks award nomination places him among 40 athletes eligible for the award, which will be awarded on Dec. 5.

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2012 Opponent Preview: Texas A&M

Photo by Texas A&M athletics

With reporting day fast approaching, and the Olympics in full swing, it’s time to take another look at a 2012 Auburn opponent. So far, the blog has already hit the first seven games on the schedule, and more will be coming fast and furious over the next couple of days.

Texas A&M, obviously, is a bit of a wild card for the Tigers, along with the rest of the SEC and the rest of the Aggies’ schedule. By the time the Aggies visit Jordan-Hare Stadium in late October, though, there will be plenty of tape on Texas A&M, and Auburn should have a good idea of what the Kevin Sumlin-led version of Texas A&M will look like.

Unlike the 2011 season, when October was a relentless stretch, the middle and end of the month should be an easier stretch than either September or November for Auburn. Whether or not that comes true depends on how good  a team like Texas A&M is in its first year as an SEC member.

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Texas A&M Aggies

  • Head coach: Kevin Sumlin (1st year)
  • 2011 record: 7-6
  • Returning starters: 16 (9 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams)
  • Total offense: 409.23 ypg (7th, NCAA)
  • Scoring offense: 39.08 ppg (11th)
  • Total defense: 378.15 ypg (59th)
  • Scoring defense: 28.15 ppg (70th)
  • Series: Texas A&M leads 2-0.
  • Last time out: Texas A&M 36, Auburn 16* – * 1986 (Cotton Bowl)

Outlook

Texas A&M had few problems moving the football last season. Former starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was taken with the eighth pick by the Miami Dolphins, running back Cyrus Gray went to the Kansas City Chiefs in the sixth round and supersized wide receiver Jeff Fuller was also picked up by the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent, leaving Kevin Sumlin without some of the core of the Aggies’ offense as he tries to install his wide-open spread attack. On the other hand, running back Christine Michael and receiver Ryan Swope are both back. Where Sumlin faces a big challenge is on the other side of the ball, after Texas A&M found itself a punchline because of the number of fall-from-ahead losses the Aggies took last year. To make an impression in their first year in the SEC, Texas A&M will have to learn to finish.

Proven commodity: Offense

Whoever Texas A&M chooses as the starting quarterback should have some time to throw. Both of the Aggies’ offensive tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, were highly-regarded in the Big 12, although the caliber of pass rusher they are about to face is about to get considerably better. Even so, experience on the offensive line will be huge, as it gives Texas A&M a group to rely on as they go into an SEC West full of top-notch pass rushers.

On shaky ground: Offense

Sumlin has a reputation as a bit of a quarterback whisperer due to his work with Case Keenum over the past couple of years, but he’s got his work cut out for him finding somebody along the same vein in College Station. For the moment, sophomore Jameill Showers has emerged as the frontrunner in a four-man race. Swope, who will be Texas A&M’s No. 1 target, had lots of good things to say about Showers at SEC Media Days, but he’s still a first-time starter who only attempted five passes last season. In an offense dependent on the quarterback, Showers — or one of the other three passers — has to come up big in 2012.

Proven commodity: Defense

Texas A&M is switching back from a sack-happy 3-4 to a 4-3, but the Aggies still have plenty of guys available who can rush the passer. Linebacker Sean Porter, who had 79 tackles last season, also posted 9.5 sacks, and former linebacker Damontre Moore is moving to defensive end after posting 8.5 sacks last season. Throw in Jonathan Stewart, who had 98 tackles and three sacks, and the Aggies’ front seven should be solid, especially at linebacker.

On shaky ground: Defense

Texas A&M got torched in the passing game by Big 12 offenses last season, and most of the starting-caliber talent graduated, leaving a defense that ranked 109th in the country against the pass without a group of experienced players to lead Texas A&M into SEC play. JUCO transfer Tremaine Jacobs could help, but the Aggies face big questions in the secondary going into 2012.

2012 Opponent Preview: Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt athletics

After a brief hiatus for the weekend, the blog’s march through Auburn’s 2012 schedule continues today with a look at the Tigers’ road trip to Nashville to play Vanderbilt, a game that used to be a gimme for SEC teams.

The Commodores no longer like to play doormat. For Auburn, the game comes smack-dab in the middle of the schedule, and it’s the second game in a row on the road. For the Tigers, it’s not the toughest stretch of the season, but it may involve the most travel.

Keep an eye on the blog over the next couple of days. The opponent previews will be coming fast and furious.

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Vanderbilt Commodores

  • Head coach: James Franklin (2nd year, 6-7)
  • 2011 record: 6-7
  • Returning starters: 18 (9 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams
  • Total offense: 339.08 ypg (98th, NCAA)
  • Scoring offense: 26.69 ppg (61st)
  • Total defense: 322.77 ypg (18th)
  • Scoring defense: 21.62 ppg (29th)
  • Series: Auburn is tied, 20-20-1
  • Last time out: Vanderbilt 14, Auburn 13* – *2008

Outlook

Vanderbilt made a drastic improvement in James Franklin’s first year at the helm. Beyond making a bowl — a rarity for the Commodores in the SEC — Vanderbilt gave some of the top teams in the SEC a close battle, dropping games to Georgia, Florida and Arkansas by less than a touchdown before falling to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl. With almost all of its starters returning on offense, the Commodores will try to turn that momentum into an even better season against a new-look SEC East that features Missouri. By the time Auburn plays Vanderbilt in mid-October, most football observers will know whether or not the Commodores have been able to take the next step.

Proven commodity: Offense

Like a lot of SEC teams in 2012, Vanderbilt will have no problem figuring out who to hand the ball to in the running game. Zac Stacy is back after racking up 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago, numbers that make Stacy a candidate to make a push for All-SEC honors this time around. A bowling ball at 5-9, 210 pounds, Stacy has the size to mix it up inside, and enough breakaway speed to get out and go. With another year under his belt, Stacy should be a dynamic playmaker again, and probably the first player to try to stop for opponents.

On shaky ground: Offense

Four offensive linemen return, so Vanderbilt should be set up front, along with the 1-2 punch of Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd on the outside at receiver. What could take the Commodores’ offense to another level — and after finishing near the bottom of the NCAA in total yards, it needs to get there — is the development of quarterback Jordan Rodgers. An effective runner, Rodgers still threw 10 interceptions and only nine touchdown passes last season. He has to get more efficient to keep teams from stacking teh box to stop Stacy.

Proven commodity: Defense

All three linebackers return for the Commodores, a big asset in the SEC East, where South Carolina, Georgia and Missouri all figure to have strong running attacks in 2012. Chris Marve, Vanderbilt’s best linebacker a year ago, is gone, but junior Chase Garnham has already started some and appears ready to take over Marve’s spot inside. On the outside, Archibald Barnes had 59 tackles, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in nine starts, and Tristan Strong made 13 tackles in four starts early in the year. Expect Vanderbilt’s linebackers to be playmakers in 2012.

On shaky ground: Defense

The secondary lost Casey Hayward, an All-American and  a second-round pick of the Green Bay Packers who had seven interceptions last season and has impressed early in Green Bay’s training camp. In addition, three-year starter Sean Richardson is gone at safety, leaving two big spots open to fill in the secondary. Two players return, but filling the shoes of Hayward and Richardson will be difficult.

July 29, 2012

Mike Dyer dismissed from Arkansas State

Photo by Robin Trimarchi

AUBURN, Ala.—Former Auburn running back Mike Dyer has been dismissed from the Arkansas State football team before ever playing a down for the Red Wolves.

Dyer was dismissed from the team Sunday due to an undisclosed violation of team rules.

“I am truly disappointed that it didn’t work out here at ASU for Mike,” Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn said in a release. “I wish Mike nothing but the best in the future.”

Malzahn, the offensive coordinator who helped Dyer become a two-time 1,000-yard rusher at Auburn as a freshman and sophomore, had given the running back a new lease on life after Dyer’s off-the-field troubles at Auburn caused him to ask for a transfer.

Dyer was removed from the team for the Chick-fil-A Bowl due to an undisclosed vioation of team rules in December, and he decided to transfer rather than meet Auburn coach Gene Chizik’s requirements for reinstatement.

Dyer also admitted on the witness stand during the trial of Antonio Goodwin, who was convicted in April of participating in a robbery with allegedly three other Tigers, that his gun was used in the robbery, and that he had smoked marijuana and used synthetic marijuana.

Ultimately, Dyer chose Arkansas State, the same school that hired Malzahn to be its first-year head coach after Hugh Freeze left for Ole Miss.

But his time in Jonesboro had gotten rocky recently.

Dyer’s waiver to play immediately instead of sitting out a transfer year was denied by the NCAA, and a subsequent appeal was also turned down.

Only a week ago, Dyer flirted with the idea of transferring to Pittsburg State, a Division I-AA school, before deciding to stay at Arkansas State.

Now, Dyer’s immediate future is unclear, although he can still transfer to a lower level and play immediately.