Thursday, December 19, 2013

Secret to Success: Who Can't Auburn Do Without in 2014

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It's that time of year. Regardless of if their team was 3-9 or in the National Championship, the top eligible players in the country are all evaluating whether or not they will declare for the NFL draft. Naturally, most of the attention is being played to the skill positions around college football, notably, players like Teddy Bridgewater.

Auburn is no exception to this and a team that was 3-9 and winless in the SEC last year find itself at the pinnacle of college football. When you are at the pinnacle, it's easy to be seen and a lot of players are giving a lot of consideration to where they will be in the next year. The old saying "strike while the iron is hot" certainly applies. There is plenty of talent on this team, 4 and 5 stars galore. But, players have had the opportunity to showcase their skills on the biggest stage and will likely never be able to duplicate such an amazing run. While seniors will be gone regardless, few of them are either starters or cornerstones of the program. However, there are several juniors that are openly considering jumping into the professional world.

You can't be mad at any of them for wanting to leave potentially mediocre careers in an office for the glory (and money) of the NFL. All you can hope for is that they have considered all the options and weighed them carefully.

Auburn has 2 potential juniors that are carefully weighing the odds in Reese Dismukes and Tre Mason. Both are fantastic players with their own stories that you can go read up on. Obviously, Tre gets a lot of the much deserved hype and rightfully so. He has become my favorite player in Auburn history with his blend of skills and work ethic. He has been the face of this team. Yet, he isn't the player that I feel MUST come back for Auburn to find success in 2014.

I know it's hard to believe that I would say that a Heisman finalist and holder of many records at Auburn isn't the key to success next year. Don't get me wrong, I want him back in a bad way and I think he wants to come back, too. Though he is a Finalist, finishing last in a vote isn't his style. Additionally, Mason is not high on anyone's draft board. Many say he is the 10th best back in the draft, making him a late round pick. As a matter of fact, word is that he is having success because of the system, a mediocre back in a terrific offense. Those aren't kind words to read when considering your draft status. At the same time, no one knows what another year may bring. As we have seen with guys like Marcus Lattimore, the worst thing to happen is a serious injury, which is always one hit away. But, the man thrives through adversity and continues to surprise everyone. I would certainly give him a shot if I were a GM of an NFL team. He fits well in a Bronco's or even a Chargers type offense.

But as much as I love watching Tre and I believe in him, Auburn can and will win without him. Auburn became Running Back U long before he was at Auburn and it will continue to live up to its name. Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will be back next year. Malzahn continues to bring in top level talent and Auburn has two high school running backs on board that could be heir apparent after CAP and Grant.

So, that leaves only center Reese Dismukes.  Dismukes came out of Spanish Fort as an SEC ready center. He was the #1 rated center and #79 overall in the class of 2011. He entered spring practice and immediately solidified the starting role vacated by long time starter Ryan Pugh. He had his growing pains on and off the field in the next two years but has absolutely dominated the game in 2013. Like Mason, he isn't high on anyone's draft card, coming in as the #5 center and projected as a late rounder as well.

So, why must be return for Auburn to find success? Well, for starters, he makes all of the line adjustment calls at the line of scrimmage. He has been doing it for a long time and has done a fairly good job. This is something that only gets better with time and one can expect him to continue to grow in this area and develop into a prototypical play caller as needed in the NFL. While he has been doing it for 3 years, there hasn't been much time for his backup Tunde Faryike to  grow.

Speaking of, all a layman needs to do is to watch the two games that Dismukes sat out in 2012 to see the other reasons that he is needed. Tunde Faryike did not play well in the Clemson game down the stretch. After establishing a first half lead, the offense melted and could not produce points. More importantly, the line could not make hay. Additionally, Faryike gave Ole Miss the game with a snap returned for a TD. While things DO happen, this problem manifested itself yet again in the 2013 A-Day game which lead to a Justin Garrett scoop and score.

While the Auburn offensive line has dominated everyone as a team, the unquestioned leader is Dismukes. His take-no-prisoners attitude is very apparent if you watch him punish players. That was his MO in high school. He had a mean streak. While youth kept him from being able to put it on display in his first two years, his comfort with the system and the teams improvement around him have allowed him to become the monster that everyone thought he could become.

While the NFL is a QB driven league, it's easy to forget that everything starts up front. More importantly, everything starts with the center, whether it's making presnap calls to the snap itself. Auburn has a stable of running backs behind Mason. Are they as good as Mason? Probably not. But Malzahn has shown that he can make 2 lesser backs more potent than 1 super back. Replacing a 3 year starter that already has NFL potential, experience, and a punisher attitude, cannot be replaced as easily if at all. That goes double when the backup is a known quantity as a liability. Auburn is trying to remedy that by bringing in JuCo star Dampeer may help shore up the position, but as a Junior, he cannot be expected to fill the shoes of a guy who was recruited and trained in the system as an early enrolled freshman.

Mark my words, though Auburn would be fine without either of these great players, Dismukes is the only one that I can say that a loss at some point is inevitable. When you play the Alabama's and LSU's of the world, you are only as good as your line, specifically your center. The big question is, will Dismukes benefit from coming back? I believe that he could move up the draft boards with another year. Anything can happen if you decide to stay an extra year. In this case, I think both sides will benefit from him staying, but Auburn most of all.