By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
Three years ago, a quarterback by the name of Cam Newton took Auburn and its fans by storm, punishing defenses week after week en route to the Tigers' first national championship since 1957.
Since Newton's departure, however, Auburn's production out of the quarterback position has been less than ideal.
Last year, it reached a tipping point for most fans, as the Tigers struggled mightily on offense, averaging just more than 18 points per game — their lowest mark in more than a decade — while their three quarterbacks — Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace and Clint Moseley — combined for just seven touchdowns passes as opposed to an alarming 15 interceptions.
Frazier and Wallace return, in addition to newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson, as potential starters under center for the Orange and Blue.
Coach Gus Malzahn is hoping to name a quarterback as soon as possible as the Tigers inch closer and closer to their season-opener against Washington State.
For many players, they're hoping right along with their head coach.
"It's extremely critical," Auburn fullback Jay Prosch said about naming a quarterback and having a passing game in the SEC. "You have to have a double threat. You can't just have a run game. The four guys we are looking at now, we support them and work with them now."
Malzahn added a different perspective.
"Anytime you're going to have four players, that's definitely a concern," he said. "We'll be doing things a little bit different in fall camp early. We're going to have to have strategies in place to evaluate them and put them in different situations as early as we can."
% FRONT AND CENTER: While the quarterback is of paramount importance in Auburn's offensive system, the center position also demands a sharp player with a terrific work ethic and a high attention to detail.
For the Tigers, that's where Reese Dismukes shines.
The junior offensive lineman anchors what Malzahn hopes will be one of his team's stronger units throughout the season.
"It's very valuable," Malzahn said of Dismukes' role. "We go fast, and he touches the ball every time. He has to ID not only the run game, but the pass game. He had an excellent spring, and his leadership has really stepped up. I'm proud of Reese."
Dismukes is one of four returning starters for the Tigers along the offensive front, including Greg Robinson, Patrick Miller and Chad Slade.
Although the unit as a whole has a wealth of potential, they'll need to improve in certain areas moving forward including sacks allowed (37), where the Tigers ranked 109th in the FBS.
% CAN’T DO IT ALONE: Although Malzahn has certainly turned heads during his brief tenure as head coach, he'd be the first to say he hasn't be able to do it without help.
On Wednesday, Malzahn lauded several of his assistants, including defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, defensive line coach Rodney Garner, cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith, receivers coach Dameyune Craig and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
"Rodney has is one of the better defensive line coaches in football," Malzahn said. "I believe the last two head coaches at Auburn tried to hire him. He's an excellent coach on the field and an excellent recruiter. As for Melvin, I've known him for awhile. He has a great reputation, not only as a coach but as a person.”
Malzahn added it was important for him to bring in former Tiger players — i.e. Craig and Garner — because he knew they understand what Auburn is all about, not just as a football program but as a way of life.
"They have been successful as players and have a special passion about Auburn," he said. "I'm very proud of our staff. I feel like we have one of the top staffs in college football. All men of character, great examples for our players. I can honestly say we have nine guys that can flat-out coach. That will be very good for us in the future."
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.