Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Luper: Fannin will have huge year

Running backs coach Curtis Luper isn’t one to back away from making bold predictions.

Now that he thinks he has found his next workhorse tailback, the second-year Auburn assistant offered steep praise for apparent starter Mario Fannin.

“It's obvious to me that Mario can do what Ben (Tate) did for this offense, after being with him for a month,” Luper said after Auburn finished its final spring practice on Monday. “That's what we expect.”

Luper correctly forecasted Tate to rush for more than 1,200 yards last year and offered a similar projection for Fannin.

“Mario will run for 1,000 yards if he stays healthy. No question. Write it down. Bold letters,” Luper said. “It's a combination of things. The offense lends itself to it. He has everything that you need to get that done. But I have to say, ‘If he stays healthy…’ because he has a propensity to get banged up every now and then.”

That’s a bold statement considering Fannin will enter his senior year having rushed for 971 career yards and having a career-high of 448 rushing yards.

It hasn’t just been Fannin’s running ability that has given Luper so much confidence in him. Fannin’s performance in pass protection has also drawn praise.

“He's had a history of some shoulder ailments, so we were concerned of him stepping up and hitting a Josh Bynes in the mouth or something like that,” Luper said. “But he doesn't shy away from it all. He did a really good in pass pro this spring. He's a complete back. He can do it all, and expectations are going to be high for him.”

Still, Fannin might have a significant problem in compiling the 1,000 yards Luper predicted.
In addition to injuries, Fannin faces another potential setback that Tate didn’t have to worry about – losing snaps to a freshman.

Onterio McCalebb got a number of carries especially early last season, but essentially played a different position than Tate. That allowed them to be on the field at the same time.

The same might not be true for Fannin when highly anticipated freshman Michael Dyer arrives on campus.

Luper also offered a steep prediction for Dyer.

“He'll get 1,000 too,” Luper said.

Asked if he would guarantee it, Luper backed off some.

“You better put that one in small print,” he said. “Until I at least work with him in practice.”

DEFERRED DECISION: In what came as a surprise to nobody who has paid attention this spring, Auburn coach Gene Chizik confirmed Monday that he wouldn’t name a starting quarterback this spring.

He also said the competition is more likely to carry over into the summer than it is to be settled within the next few weeks.

Right now, Chizik said, all four quarterbacks are still on an even playing field, but added “Now that we've reached the end of spring, what are we feeling? I mean, there's got to be an order somewhere.”

Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn aren’t divulging what that order might be.

While the coaches haven’t said anything, Clint Moseley thinks he is at the back of the pack, though he added that he hasn’t been told anything for certain.

Cam Newton, considered the favorite by many, said he doesn’t have a feel as to who leads the competition.

“We’ll meet with coach Malzahn someday this week, and I’m pretty sure he’ll go over that with us,” Newton said. “But it’s really not important right now.”

ROLLISON UPDATE: Whether or not the four-man quarterback race could become five when preseason camp begins still remains to be seen.

Chizik still has not ruled QB Tyrik Rollison out despite the fact that his father, Michael Kelly, told reporters a few months ago that Rollison planned to transfer to Sam Houston State. Rollison is still currently enrolled at Auburn, but did not participate in spring practice.

“I will touch base again here before school ends,” Chizik said. “I can't give you any positives one way or the other, but I will assure you that when we know, we will get it out there and it will be clear-cut.”

Rollison redshirted last year and was suspended for the Outback Bowl for a violation of team rules.

POSITIVE STEPS FOR COLEMAN: There is no timetable for OL Shon Coleman to join Auburn’s football program.

The incoming freshman underwent chemotherapy in March for an unspecified illness. His mother, De Keisha Tunstall, said last week via her Facebook page that Coleman is now cancer-free. On Friday, she wrote that Coleman was back in the hospital because of low-sodium levels.

Chizik said earlier this spring that he’s not even thinking about football with Coleman at the current time. Now he hopes Coleman can be around the team even if he can’t play.

“If he can be here with everybody else, whether he plays football or not, we want him here with everybody else,” Chizik said. “Obviously that's going to be up to the people that are taking care of him. We would love to have him be around his teammates whether football's involved or not involved. That's really insignificant at this point. We'll play the rest of that by ear.”