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Auburn opens spring practice with foundation for 2017 in place

By Michael Niziolekmniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

When Auburn takes the field Tuesday for the first day of spring practice they are going to need a new slogan.

The young kids who opened camp a year ago having to “earn it” — as the team motto suggested — mostly did so.

Defensive end Marlon Davidson garnered universal praise for his maturity while putting together a productive season starting as a true freshman.

A backfield with zero career starts emerged as one of the most dynamic in the SEC behind previously unheralded fullback Kamryn Pettway and the versatile Kerryon Johnson.

The similarly inexperienced linebackers turned heads behind energetic first-year position coach Travis Williams.

Much of the team’s depth chart Tuesday will be identical to the one the team closed out the season with in New Orleans.

Auburn didn’t turn the liability into one of the team’s strength overnight.

Coach Gus Malzahn credits a series of top 10 recruiting classes for laying the foundation the program will benefit from this spring.

“There aren’t a whole lot of areas that we’re desperate to have guys to come in and play immediately,” Malzahn said on national signing day. “A lot of these guys will play, but I think it just kind of speaks to where we’re at from a depth standpoint and a program standpoint.”

The excitement level this week at Auburn’s athletic complex will be the same as it was a year ago, but the outlook is much different as evidenced by Malzahn’s comments during the team’s national signing day broadcast.

“I think we've got a chance to really do something special in the next three or four years,” Malzahn said.

Malzahn even talked about having a “chance to win a championship” in the fall — a phrase that didn’t get a whole lot of play on the Plains last season.

While Auburn’s roster is in a much better shape than it was a year ago, there’s important work to be done particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

New offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey is expected to implement changes to Malzahn’s offense. The two are aligned philosophically, but Lindsey was hired (in part) to wake up a dormant passing attack.

Lindsey also gets to decide Auburn’s latest quarterback competition.

Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham is the favorite to win the starting job, but the quarterback spent a good deal of time away from the field after deciding to leave his former school.

For Kevin Steele and Auburn’s defense, it’s all about building on the momentum from finishing the year with a top 10 scoring defense (17.1).

No one expected for Steele to instantly succeed where multiple other defensive coordinators failed, but the longtime assistant proved to be the voice Auburn’s defense needed to here.

Steele’s laid back, player-friendly style resonated in the locker room immediately.

“He makes everybody get on the same page,” Auburn linebacker Deshaun Davis said in December. “It's really simple for the defense. All you've got to do is communicate pre-snap, and everybody flies to the ball. He came in and showed us mad love. He took us on his own.”

It won’t be an easy task replacing Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson, but Steele has a hungry group of defenders to choose from.

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