Taking stock of the Tigers
I'll take Auburn football for $200, Alex.
I was able to see a lot of football practice before the team went into seclusion last week. I was able to develop some reasonably well-rounded ideas on several players. Here's a look at some popular guys and what I noted:
WR Mario Fannin: He didn't look good to me. The surgically repaired shoulder seemed to trouble him a lot. Remember that he's switching to a new position. I think he'll have a good chance to contribute during the season's second half. Why not before then? His shoulder clearly remains tender and he's running with the second- and third-team offenses. He has work ahead.
WR Chris Slaughter: The HOTTIES know that I've had an irrational appreciation for Slaughter dating back to last season. He arrived late for camp in 2007 (another Clearinghouse badge of excellence) and never really got into the rhythm of Al Borges' offense. He's having a much better camp this time around. Tony Franklin has been praising the heck out of Slaughter. I consider Slaughter the team's top break-out candidate.
DE Antoine "Hot" Carter: Stanley McClover was the last Auburn end I've seen who is this good at pass rush. Carter is so fast and quick that even a guy like Lee Ziemba, a franchise-type tackle, can't maintain contact with him. Carter's run-stopping ability remains a mystery -- he's still not a big player by any means -- but he's going to create a lot of problems for opponents on third down.
CB D'Antoine Hood: I may be in the minority here, but I think this kid is going to be very good. I'm just not sure 2008 is going to be a break-out season for him. He's slower and less "twitchy" than classmates Neiko Thorpe and Harry Adams. Still, Hood clearly has The Feel. Once he applies lessons learned through trial and error, he'll be a good one. I see him as a Jae Wilhite kind of player -- without the attitude. I mean that in a good way.
DT Zach Clayton: This is a tricky case. I watch him and I see tons of effort and violent hands. That's what assistant coach Don Dunn likes. That equals playing time. Still, some fellow writers whose opinions I value believe Clayton is no more than a standard DT. I'm really high on him. We'll see. Effort goes a long way in football.
DE Raven Gray: Gray (pictured at right) was supposed to be a superstar the moment he arrived. Instead, he was hobbling on crutches his first day at Auburn. The cause: December knee surgery. I haven't been impressed with Gray at all so far. His effort level didn't seem on par with more experienced ends like Coleman, Carter and Goggans. Gray was chastised often for not hustling, though that may be a function of simply not knowing Auburn's practice protocol.
With that said, he'll have to make major progress before emerging as an SEC-level contributor. There are plenty of alibis for Gray's problems. Many of them are plausible. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt ... for now. Consider him a third-team player until something changes.
CB Walt McFadden: He's a good player. He's a replacement for Aairon Savage, who is out for the season with a knee injury. McFadden is a guy who generally uses good technique. His brother, Bryant, plays defense with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's very apparent that Walt McFadden studies and works hard to improve himself. He's a little short on athleticism. Still, he's going to be less bust-prone than many people believe. He's more than a stop-gap option.
RG Byron Isom: He shares some characteristics with McFadden -- both players are "replacements" for more high-profile teammates. Isom is playing in place of Chaz Ramsey, who is out with back problems. Isom is an interesting case because, at least to my untrained eye, Isom looks as good as Ramsey. Isom is remarkably strong and rarely loses leverage. He learns from mistakes. Isom doesn't appear to have great feet, though, which reduces his range to some degree. That isn't a huge deal at guard. I think he's a good one. If I was giving letter grades, I'd bestow a B.
Check out "Frenchy Pierre" feeding the horse. He was one of several players who attended the team's annual event at Storybrook Farms, which provides provides equine-based therapeutic programs or children facing life-threatening illness, disabilities and grief.
Here's Andre Wadley (left, in the flesh!) and Harry Adams signing some autographs.
Questions? Comments? Post directly to the blog below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Todd Van Emst/Auburn University