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Whoever is assigned to run Malzahn’s offense will have to labor in the shadow of Newton, a dual-threat marvel who was the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick by the Carolina Panthers.

A bigger potential challenge: Operating behind a line that lost four seniors. Right tackle Brandon Mosley is a preseason All-SEC pick _ Auburn’s only first-teamer _ after taking over when A.J. Greene was hurt three games into last season. Greene also is back.

The center battle is between a freshman (Reese Dismukes) and a walk-on (Blake Burgess), while other freshmen like top recruit Christian Westerman and Gregory Robinson could compete for starting jobs on the line.

The defense also has plenty of unknowns with only one starter apiece on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary. And one of those, Neiko Thorpe, is moving from cornerback to safety, a position Auburn coaches feel suits him better. Bell emerged as like the Tigers’ best cover corner by last season’s end, starting in both the SEC championship and national title games for the 108th-rated pass defense.

End Nosa Eguae returns on the defensive line but both interior spots were vacated, including the quarterback-abusing Fairley. That’s where sophomores Kenneth Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker are hoping to go from little-used backups to starters.

Daren Bates and five-game starter Eltoro Freeman are back at linebacker, but vocal leader and leading tackler Josh Bynes is gone.

Kicker Wes Byrum, who made the game-winner in the national title game, and punter Ryan Shoemaker are also gone.

The total picture explains the modest outlook most have for this team. Doesn’t mean the Tigers won’t use it for motivation.

“That’s kind of been the mentality at Auburn for the last couple years because every year we come into it and we’re expected to fail and not to get to where we want, so we’ve embraced the role of playing with a chip on our shoulder game-in, game-out,” Lutzenkirchen said. “I think you saw a lot of that last year too. We didn’t really get credit until we were 9-0.

“We’re just going in there and we’re going to try and prove everyone wrong.”