AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The steady drumbeat of construction equipment pounded through Gene Chizik's office Thursday morning, a sign of the work in progress at Auburn.
That national championship 15-plus months ago didn't mean the Tigers had finished the rebuilding job remarkably ahead of schedule. To Chizik, Auburn's fourth-year coach, a positive sign his program is closing in on that completion came during the spring with all the competition for starting jobs on a team that has only a handful of vacancies.
"If you look at our senior class this past year, it's very representative of the crater there in our numbers," Chizik told The Associated Press. "We've had to really significantly work through the last couple of years in terms of building our numbers up in recruiting. We're definitely on track. This upcoming recruiting class is going to be huge in what we consider solidifying four really great foundational recruiting classes.
"We feel like this fourth one is going to get us where we need to be."
He's not counting the first class that was largely assembled before his hiring by Tommy Tuberville's staff. Even with 17 returning starters on offense and defense, Auburn's youth movement continues.
Some 70 percent of the Tigers' roster of scholarship players is comprised of freshmen or sophomores, a slight increase from 2011.
Progress hasn't been too painful, on the field. Auburn has won 31 games in Chizik's first three seasons, including the Cam Newton-led national championship team in 2010.
Dressed in a gray pin-striped suit with purple tie and purple and white kerchief, Chizik mostly manages to ignore the noise that represents the sounds of the equipment room's expansion directly beneath his spacious office. It's one part of the athletic facility's upgrades that has already included the suite of offices where he and athletic director Jay Jacobs work, not to mention a new indoor practice building a year ago.
"It's going to be really nice," Chizik said.
On the field, Chizik dealt with the first big makeover to his coaching staff. He has hired offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and secondary coach Willie Martinez.
Chizik is also seeking a starting quarterback and a replacement for All-Southeastern Conference tailback Mike Dyer. Gus Malzahn took his fast-paced offense — and ultimately Dyer — to Arkansas State for his first college head coaching job.
Chizik said the biggest differences in the offense will be much more frequent huddles and two-tight end formations and fewer shotgun snaps.
"Other than that, football is football," he said. "Is that more of the standard in people's eyes? Yeah, because you're not no-huddling every snap and you're not fast-pacing every snap. But you've got to remember, we didn't fast-pace every snap last year. That's the image and that's kind of the impression but we didn't do that every snap. We didn't do it in 2010; we didn't go fast every snap."
Sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier got a chance to get an upper hand this spring on Clint Moseley, who was limited by a sore shoulder.
Chizik's review was mixed about whether the spring convinced him that Frazier could be a successful starter in the Southeastern Conference.
"I certainly saw flashes that would indicate that he could, no question about that," the coach said. "I feel like I saw some things this spring that indicated that he has the potential for that. As we all know, that potential word is a dangerous word, but we saw flashes of exactly why we recruited him. He's got a lot of development to go but he's got a chance to be a good player in this league."
The Tigers have stockpiled blockers for whoever emerges as the No. 1 quarterback in preseason camp. They have signed 10 offensive linemen and six defensive linemen in the past two years. Those areas have been question marks since defensive tackle Nick Fairley and four offensive line starters departed from the national title team.
"I feel like that's where everything starts and I really feel like that's where we're moving in the right direction," Chizik said. "Obviously, recruiting is wherever they are on paper when you sign them. But just potentially on what we feel like down the road they will become in terms of the development of each one of those young guys. I think we're in a really good place right now — on both sides."
Chizik finds plenty of positives in returnees getting challenged for their starting spots.
"What we've experienced in the spring, which gives our coaching staff a lot of optimism, is that we're finally getting true competition at a lot of different positions," he said. "Our roster is built up enough in numbers. Although they're still young, they're talented, and they're able to compete for jobs. That's where you want to get to. We're finally starting to get close to that point."