AUBURN — Philip Lutzenkirchen finds himself in a strange place. He’s two months removed from playing his sophomore season, two months removed from winning a national championship, yet he’s one of Auburn’s few veterans.
“It’s weird that I’m an older guy because I’m a 19-year-old still,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to get past that.”
But that’s where Lutzenkirchen and Auburn find themselves after Wednesday’s first day of spring practice. The Tigers now have only 49 scholarship players who were on the roster when they beat Oregon 22-19 for the BCS title on Jan. 10. AU is down in numbers because of last year’s unusually large senior class, the defection of three key juniors to the NFL draft, the dismissal of five players accused of breaking the law, and the departure of several little-used players.
Auburn will likely have approximately 73 players on scholarship in the fall even if every member of the 2011 signing class shows up. The NCAA allows 85.
Is that any way to defend a national title?
“This year we’ve got very few people back. We’ve got a lot of new faces,” said offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. “A lot of inexperienced guys will be on the field. … The standard will be high, but at the same time, as a coach, we’re going to have to be a little patient. We’re going to be an inexperienced team, but we have some options.”
The Tigers return only three starters on offense and three on defense, so Wednesday began a true tryout season for the players.
“They’re getting an opportunity to make plays and step up and show the coaches what they can do, and they need to take full advantage of that,” Lutzenkirchen said.
Malzahn began life without quarterback Cam Newton by telling Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley that the competition for the starting job is in full swing. Malzahn said he hoped to name a new starter by the end of spring practice.
The challenge to replace the Heisman Trophy winner is great.
“I made the joke several times: He didn’t leave me shoes to follow, he left me skis to follow,” Trotter said.
Trotter is beginning his fourth season at Auburn, and Moseley is back for his third, but they’ve taken precious few snaps.
“They’ve made it very clear there is not a starter,” Trotter said. “But as far as the day went, I think it went well. I thought we both threw the ball well. I thought the first and second team as a whole did pretty well together.”
Lurking in the shadows is true freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who will arrive this summer and begin practicing in August.
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