The Auburn coach asked his players to raise their hand if they’d started six or more games at some point last season.
“I didn’t see very many hands go up,” he said.
That’s what happens when you have a senior class of 23 players and three more draft-eligible juniors decide not to return for their senior year. Then throw in five more players who were booted off the team after running afoul of local law enforcement, and the numbers become even more critical.
Chizik declined to discuss — in even the most general of terms — the players no longer on the team because of legal issues.
Those are H-back Eric Smith, who was dismissed after being charged with domestic violence, and wide receivers Shaun Kitchens and Antonio Goodwin, tight end Dakota Mosley and safety Mike McNeil, who were dismissed after their involvement in an incident that resulted in a variety of charges that included armed robbery and burglary.
“I’m going to talk only about spring practice and our football team and guys that are currently on our team,” Chizik said.
Chizik compared this year’s rebuilding job to the one he faced two years ago when he first took the job.
The differences, though, are what the Tigers had done the year before. Coming off a 5-7 season, Auburn went 8-5 in Chizik’s first year. Strictly from a numbers standpoint, coming off a national championship season looms tougher than coming off a losing season.
“We’ve got a challenge in front of us,” Chizik said. “We’re going to stay on track with continuing to build the foundation at Auburn, no different than we did two years ago when we got here. We’ve got some challenges in front of us.
“We’ve got guys that are eager. And we’re going to continue to build what we started the previous two years. Obviously we’ve started to move forward in trying to replace 23 seniors and three juniors that left.”
Chizik was asked what it would take for the Tigers to “keep their edge.” Several Alabama players have been quoted as saying they lost theirs last season while defending their national championship.
“I think our edge is going to be that we’ve got to find a lot of young players who have not been there and done it yet,” Chizik said. “That doesn’t mean they haven’t played, but when the game is on the line, we don’t have a lot of players that have been in there to win that game. They do know what great looks like. I think that’s going to help.
“I told them today before practice, ‘You don’t have any game time experience, or very little of it. Your experience is going to come in practice.’ That’s how we have to approach every day in terms of a challenge. That’s how we’ve got to keep our edge.”
One of Auburn’s few returning starters, defensive end Nosa Eguae, said the Tigers have it, though.
“It’s an opportunity to go out there and show them what you’ve got,” Eguae said. “A lot of people think it’s going to be a down year. We’ve heard all types of stuff.
“We’re just trying to prove that we’re still Auburn. We’re just going to go out there and fight every Saturday.”