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July 21, 2011

Reigning champs flying under the radar in 2011

Most years programs are represented with seniors to be the face of the program for at least one day. Every school has sent, or will send at least one senior to SEC Media Days, every school except Auburn.

The Tigers' sent three players to media days, and were the only program to not send a senior representative.

With close to 30 players lost from last year's roster, the Tigers are easily the youngest team in the SEC. Thursday saw a sophomore and two juniors talk to the media on behalf of the national champions in defensive end Nosa Eguae, wide receiver Emory Blake, and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.

"It's crazy man," Blake said. "Of course, a lot of media are here. I'm enjoying myself. It's a great experience."

For Lutzenkirchen, "crazy" was not quite the right word to describe his first media days experience.

"It's been a zoo so far," Lutzenkirchen said. "So far, it's been good though. It's a great opportunity. It's nice that the coach thinks enough of you to be on of the guys that represents the team."

The three players were excited about the opportunity, but also know the youth movement on the Plains has the Tigers' sneaking under the radar heading into 2011, a rare feat for a defending champion.

"I think a lot people in the media, they get misconstrued that being young is lack of talent, and it's not at Auburn," Eguae said. "We have a lot of talent, and come September 3, we're looking to show off that talent on a stage."

Auburn returns six starters total from last year's squad, the lowest total of any BCS conference team. In addition, Auburn must face a brutal conference road schedule, including an out of conference game at Clemson. Chizik said that comes with the territory when you are in the SEC, and his players agree.

"When you sign up to play in the SEC, you know what you're going to play some tough road games, some tough environments," Eguae said. "You look at the schedule, you see the tough road games, and you're competitive juices start to flow. You see the stadiums and know the crowds you'll face, and you get excited about it."

In 2010, Auburn was constantly having to come from behind, overcoming numerous double-digit deficits on their way to the BCS title. Combine that with the loss of a Heisman Trophy winner and Lombardi Award winner, and expectations in the media are low for the Tigers' in 2011.

Preseason talk is cheap according to Eguae.

"We're going to go back, doing the little things," Eguae said. "It goes back to the fact that it's preseason, and it's preseason talk. Come September 3, nobody will care about preseason talk."

Most of the focus in off-season workouts has focused on the loss of Cam Newton, and who will replace him. Clint Moseley and Barrett Trotter are already on campus competing, with freshman Kiehl Frazier now entering the mix.

Blake thinks Frazier has the tools to compete, but will have to battle two veteran players in the Malzahn Offense.

"Kiehl just got here so it's hard to judge him right now," Blake said. "I can see his arm though, tight spiral, but he has yet to learn the offense. Barrett and Clint have been in the offense two years, They know what's expected of them. The timing doesn't change with them in Malzahn's system, the drop back and the steps don't change, so it'll just come down to the guy that makes the plays this fall."

Having led the team in touchdowns with eight a year ago, Blake himself will see an expanded role in 2011. He welcomes the opportunity as someone who has proven on the field his ability.

"I'm definitely ready," Blake said. "I feel capable of filling that role of a leader, I'm really excited. I feel like I'm one of the older guys, and I've just turned 20 a few days ago, but I think we proved ourselves on the field and off the field. I'm surprised we haven't gotten more questions about how we're so young. Just because you're young doesn't mean you can't be a leader."

While most reigning national champions face questions of defending that title, that has not been the case for Auburn. The Tigers are not considered a serious threat by anyone in the outside media as a team capable of repeating their feats of a year ago.

According to Auburn players though, while winning an SEC title a year after such dramatic roster losses may seem a far reach, they maintain there is a plan, and it is up to them to work it.

"You do it one day at a time," Eguae said. "You focus on the small things. That's what the coaches and us are focusing on."

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