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Auburn Tigers Panel: Mississippi State week

Thus far, whose performance has stood out the most?

Bill Meador: The 3 things that have stood out to me are the poise and talents of Cameron Newton, the struggles of the AU defense and the mistakes of the special teams. Newton appears to be as good as he is billed to be. I did see some improvement from the Tiger “D” but they have a long long way to go. You can’t give good teams opportunities and AU did that on special teams thrice against MSU.

Jonathan Jenkins: Is that a serious question? Cam Newton! He has come in and given the Auburn offense a seventh dimension. I believe that his passing will improve throughout the year, but his leadership is unquestioned right now.

Rick Dunn: Michael Dyer has had more carries than I had anticipated and I am beginning to understand why. He is ready to play SEC football. He has great instincts and balance. He has averaged 6.2 yards/carry on 23 carries and I don’t think that he has really “let his hair down” yet. He is more of a Mark Ingram than a Ronnie Brown. Barring injury, I think that he will finish the year with 800 to 1,200 yards rushing.

At this point in the season, Auburn’s defense doesn’t appear to be greatly improved over last year. What do you attribute that to?

Bill Meador: I can’t put my finger on just one reason why the Tiger defense is laboring to improve any faster. They have players with experience. They just seem to be a step slow getting to the play. Maybe they just need time to gel and mesh to play as one unit.

Jonathan Jenkins: The defense was a concern all last year due to its erratic play; in fact, the Auburn defense was two minutes from denying a team a run at a national championship. Individual defensive skills have definitely improved. In the first two games of 2010, there has definitely been more defensive team coordination. Expect by game four that there will be two or three Auburn defenders whose names will be household names…at least in half the houses in state.

Rick Dunn: I am very pleased that we held MSU to 14 points and less than 250 yards total offense. We are not playing traditional, Auburn defense right now and we can only hope to move in that direction. We know what the problems were last year. This year will tell us more.

Can Auburn be successful with Cam Newton as one of the team’s leading rushers week in and week out?

Bill Meador: In the first two weeks of play, Cam has lead AU in rushing. Mario Fannin is having a tough go of being ” the man ” at running back.  Newton certainly has helped the running game thus far and that probably will continue. I hope he can stay healthy through the entire season. If the running backs get progressively better, the load of Newton having to run will diminish.

Jonathan Jenkins: Malzahn’s philosophy is to take what is given. Both Arkansas State and Mississippi State geared their defense toward stopping Fannin and McCalebb. Newton and Dyer were surprises to ArkSt. Newton shouldn’t have been a surprise to Miss State since Mullen had recruited Cam, but he was. As future teams adjust to Newton, we will see the return of big production from Fannin and Kodi Burns.

Rick Dunn: Yes, we can. Let’s consider only the true rushing game and not scrambles for big yardage. If Newton has a good rushing game, that would mean that we are blocking well, the defense respects our other rushers, and the QB is making good reads.

How are Dyer, Newton and Mario Fannin comparable to Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and Jason Campbell and do you expect the 2010 trio to enjoy the same success as their 2004 counterparts?

Bill Meador: The trio of players from 2004 were all drafted in the first round of the NFL. As yet, I don’t see this year’s backfield coming close to that accomplishment. There are glimpses though. I don’t see the consistency of production from this year’s group.

Jonathan Jenkins: As excited as I am about the 2010 trio, there should be no comparison of them to 2004’s heroes. Why? The ’04 team had overcome tremendous adversity both on and off the field to become the Auburn stars of last decade. But, that was last decade. This decade should have its own Great Tigers. Why not start with Newton, Fannin, Dyer, and the rest.

Rick Dunn: I find it to be very difficult to make that comparison. There are different tool sets, a different offense, and I’m sorry, but Mario Fannin does not belong in that discussion. I do not mean to be elusive, but the offensive objectives and approach are so different it is almost an “apples and oranges” situation.

How does what you’ve seen in the first two games compare to what you expected?

Bill Meador: I think it is still to early to judge this Tiger team. I did see some improvement in some areas, but I also see things that concern me. It really depends on how we progress in all areas as to how AU will reach my high expectations. The season is still really young and therefore we still have expectations.

Jonathan Jenkins: I had expected a few opening season uncertainties due to bringing in Cam Newton from JuCo. Most importantly, I was worried that Auburn might not be able to maintain the overall enthusiasm of Chizik’s first year. Then, there were the wild predictions of Auburn winning the SEC West. However, my first two concerns have been settled: Cam is for real and can only get better, also the team has added intensity to the enthusiasm. Can Auburn live up to the wild predictions by TV’s talking heads? There are still 10 regular season games to go…let’s find out…War Eagle!!!

Rick Dunn: I am not displeased. I try to have realistic expectations. As long as the players work and play hard, I am behind them 100 percent. I feel that the offense has upside potential and we will see more of that as the season progresses. If our defense continues in its current trajectory, that area will no longer be a key weakness during second half of the season.