The defense, a liability in 2011 when it gave up nearly 29 points (No. 11 in the league) and 408 yards (also 11th) a game, could be a strength for Auburn in 2012.
New coordinator Brian VanGorder wants his defense to become more aggressive, especially up front, and more physical this fall.
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Nine starters return to the unit, including sack-master defensive end Corey Lemonier, a first-team All-SEC performer as selected by the league's coaches. He had 9½ sacks, tied for fourth in the league, last year.
Seven starters are back on an offense as well, giving the Tigers a nucleus of experience.
But coach Gene Chizik looks beyond the mere number of returning starters when he looks at his fourth Tigers team.
"If you look on paper right now, we have 16 returning starters," he said. "But the truth of the matter is we have guys, in many cases, right behind those guys that are considered one of the starters pushing them for a starting job."
In other words, the Tigers should be a deeper team on both sides of the ball, which should result in more consistent performance.
The Tigers also have a new coordinator on offense with Scott Loeffler taking over. He hasn't given out a lot of details of what the offense is going to be like, but he likely will want to take advantage of his talented receiving corps, which includes senior Emory Blake (36 catches, 613 yards in 2011) and senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (24, 238).
"It's completely different," Blake said. "It's more of a pro-style offense, more under-center than what we did last year.
"It's a totally different feel on the offense. I like it. I love it. It's going to give me more opportunities to make some plays and more plays in the passing game in general."
HEAD COACH: Gene Chizik, three years at Auburn, 30-10 at Auburn, 38-29 as a head coach.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: DE Corey Lemonier -- Lemonier had to love it when VanGorder gave out the word he is going to turn loose his defensive line. Lemonier's ability to put pressure on opposing passers will be the key to this new approach. Out of 47 of his tackles last fall, 13½ were for losses (9½ sacks).
BREAKOUT STAR: RB Tre Mason -- The leading kick returner in the SEC (26.4 average), Mason will get more opportunities from scrimmage as a sophomore now that Michael Dyer is no longer around to share the load with Onterio McCalebb. Mason rushed for 161 yards on just 28 carries, averaging 5.8 yards a pop, which was actually better than McCalebb's 5.7 average. Mason started in the bowl game.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: LB Cassanova McKinzy -- The Tigers at the very least are going to be looking for depth at linebacker, and McKinzy could help. He was considered a top 10 prospect in Alabama after playing for Woodlawn High in Birmingham.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Tigers have some real threats in the passing game, at wideout with Blake and fellow senior Travante Stallworth and making more use of Lutzenkirchen. With four starters back, the line looks to lead the defense. Lemonier could be a dominant pass rusher.
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AREAS OF CONCERN: Quarterback remains unsettled going into fall camp, and the sooner a starter is selected the better. Depth at running back took a hit with Dyer's departure. The Tigers have new coordinators on both sides of the ball in Loeffler and VanGorder. With games against Clemson and Mississippi State to start the season, they don't have the luxury of a lot of get-acquainted time for whatever changes they install.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It just goes back to a more traditional standpoint. Week-in and week-out, depending on the defense, we'll do a number of different things." -- Lutzenkirchen, on Auburn's new offensive scheme.
-- Sophomore Kiehl Frazier and junior Clint Moseley will compete in fall camp for the starting job at quarterback. Frazier played in all 13 games but threw only a dozen passes, completing five, while rushing for 327 yards, third on the team. Mosley started the final six games and was 66 of 108 for 800 yards. A sore shoulder limited him in the spring.
-- Senior LB Daren Bates, who started his career as a safety, goes into his final season at Auburn having started 35 of his 38 appearances. He was the team's leading tackler with 104 stops last year.
-- Junior FB Jay Prosch will play in 2012 after the NCAA approved his waiver request following his transfer from Illinois. Prosch left the Illini and moved to Auburn in January to be closer to his ailing mother, who lives in Mobile, Ala. Prosch played in 25 games (12 starts) in two years with the Big Ten school.
-- DB Jonathan Rose has been given his release. He had only two tackles last year, but reports were he had a decent spring session. The Birmingham News had rated him the No. 2 player in Alabama coming out of high school.
-- WR Sammie Coates sat last year after breaking his foot but is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation this fall.