Scouting report: Linebackers
**This just in: Mike Vick (pictured at right) of the Falcons has been indicted on federal charges stemming from accusations of illegal dogfighting. Bad news for would-be Auburn coach Bobby Petrino, now head of Atlanta's NFL team.
Ron Mexico is in trouble again!
Hey everyone. Thanks for making my blog one of your cyber stops. Traffic has been building during the summer as we approach the season, so I'm really happy about that. I'll defintely make this a hoppin place once we get moving Aug. 1.
I'm moving to linebackers today. I think this is going to be a critical area for Aubuen this year because it's not a position of strength. Still, this defense demands competent play from its linebackers. You can't hide shortcomings.
ON THE RANKINGS:
I like grading on a scale of 1 to 5.
5 is best.
3 is SEC average.
1 is a long-term project or someone who could play in NAIA right now.
I post two grades for each player: current score (college peak score)
2006 overview: Auburn had exactly what it needed in 2006 -- fairly talented players with a ton of experience. Will Herring successfully moved from safety to outside linebacker. Karibi Dede, who started nearly every game of his career, was incredibly shrewd in the middle. He was a true administrator. That wealth of experience helped mask the comparatively mediocre talent level overall.
Chris Evans, Courtney Harden and Steve Gandy were satisfactory in their backup roles. Gandy is the most talented of the three, but was slowed because of emergency August surgery on his thigh. That required a cut that ran at least 15 inches along Gandy's leg and, not suprisingly, slowed him for much of the season.
Freshman Tray Blackmon began his Auburn career under a six-game suspension. He returned to play reasonably well before missing the Cotton Bowl while attending to personal issues. He dropped out of school at season's end and missed all of spring drills. While on the field, Blackmon showed unusual acceleration. He's a gifted hitter. He anticipates well. Blackmon didn't have much experience, which left him confused in too many situations.
Craig Stevens spent the season on the scout team after nearly making the varsity roster out of two-a-days. He is the opposite of Blackmon -- highly aware but not the ideal physical specimen.
2006 depth chart:
STARTER – Will Herring, Senior 4.0
BACKUP -- Patrick Trahan, Soph. 2.5
STARTER – Karibi Dede, Senior 3.75
BACKUP 1– Chris Evans, RFr. 2.5
SUSPENDED OFTEN – Tray Blackmon, RFr. 3.0
STARTER – Merrill Johnson, Soph. 3.0
BACKUP – Steve Gandy, Soph. 2.5
My projected 2007 depth chart
OUSIDE LINEBACKER (strong side)
STARTER – Craig Stevens, RFr. 2.5 (4.5)
BACKUP – Courtney Harden, Soph. 2.5 (3.5)
STARTER – Tray Blackmon, Soph. 3.5 (5.0)
BACKUP – Chris Evans, Soph. 2.75 (3.5)
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (weak side)
STARTER – Merrill Johnson, Junior 3.25 (4.0)
BACKUP 1 – Steve Gandy, Junior 3.0 (4.0)
Significant developments: Patrick Trahan was ruled academically ineligible after an impressive performance during spring drills. It's a significant loss because he was going to be a starter. He's still at Auburn and coaches expect Trahan to continue his career at Auburn, but there's no chance for a 2007 return.
The franchise player: Tray Blackmon has the potential to be an outstanding player, yet he's been a constant source of frustration for Auburn coaches. He missed half of the 2006 season because of a suspension relating to an alcohol-related arrest. He then dropped out of school because of what coach Tommy Tuberville said were personal issues. The reasons behind Blackmon's abrupt exit haven't been revealed, but the NCAA heard Blackmon's reasons and granted him a waiver for the upcoming season. He's eligible.
Blackmon is among the fastest linebackers in America. He's adept at anticipating where ballcarriers are headed and Blackmon makes the most of that skill. He creates some truly epic face-plants. He also has what I'd call immediate brilliance. By that, I mean he can make great plays in hectic situations because it just comes to him. In situations where Blackmon has to ponder the offense and think along with the scheme, he's significantly less incredible. That's probably a function of experience. He has played six college games so far.
The next generation: Craig Stevens has a chance to be one of those larger-than-life players by the time he turns pro. He's energetic on the field, yet stays calm once the ball is snapped. He reminds me of a more physically gifted version of Karibi Dede, which is a high compliment. Stevens has some size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and he certainly has some understanding of Auburn's defensive system.
He nearly made the team out of two-a-days. Coaches struggled with the decision to keep him on the scout team but Auburn's top linebackers didn't miss significant time with injury. Stevens had the skill to contribute last season. He'll have a chance to start in 2007, and I expect him to be pretty consistent in that role.