Out To Prove The Critics Wrong

The returning starter at quarterback, junior Jason Campbell, is hoping to lead Auburn to the SEC Championship.

Auburn, Ala.--Despite a record of 10-4 as a starter in his career, including a 5-1 record last season, junior quarterback Jason Campbell is constantly mentioned as one of the question marks for the Auburn Tigers heading into the 2003 season.

Auburn's top career passer in terms of completion percentage, Campbell has been steady his first two seasons, but looks to move to spectacular as he hopes to lead the Tigers to the SEC title this season.

While some not familiar with the Tigers may see him as a quarterback whose primary duty is to hand off to AU's talented running backs, that's not the case. A leader both on and off the field, he has also been solid when throwing the football in his limited time called upon to do so. In addition to his impressive completion percentage, Campbell is also in the Top 10 in Auburn history for passing yardage per game (10th), yards per attempt (2nd), completions (10th), completions per game (10th) and touchdown passes (9th) with 15.

Still, even with all his accomplishments, Campbell says he and the Tigers have a lot to prove this season. Ranked high in almost every major poll and preseason magazine, Auburn will enter the 2003 season with a lot of hype. Campbell says that's fine with him and that the team has used it as motivation this summer to get every time out on the practice field in individual workouts.

"I see it everyday," Campbell tells Inside The Auburn Tigers, "The guys are coming out and competing. We've got things that we call offensive skills (QB, RB, WR, TE) versus the defensive skills (LB, CB, S), and then you have the whole team defense come out on certain days. We're doing this on our own. That's a good sign. You have players coming out and competing every day on their own time because they want to get extra work and go out against each other.

"Guys really have the right attitude and we continue to preach that we're a target this year and people are going to play that much harder when they play us," Campbell adds. "They're not going to look at us as an underdog, they're going to come right at us. We just have to be ready and the best way for us to do that is to keep the right attitude and continue to work hard in the workouts."

Campbell scores on the ground against Florida last season.

One area of Campbell's role has changed since last summer is the leadership he has displayed on the practice fields. Last year it was Daniel Cobb who got things going during the summer throwing sessions, but it has been Campbell's show this time around. Leading the team in each workout, he has shown that he's ready to put his stamp on the 2003 Tigers as his team.

"That fell into play last year in the early part of the season," Campbell notes. "Things began to turn, not just for me, but for our team. I think this summer it's had a big effect on a lot of players. You're providing that leadership and you're showing guys you're willing to work and stay those extra hours to get better. I think guys watch that and they also listen to what you are saying. When you're going into your junior season and have been in the battles and been in the wars, guys expect a lot out of you. You just want to continue to try to progress. That's what I want to do right now and continue to provide leadership."

Many expect Auburn to have a potent offense this season, but mainly because of a powerful running game led by backs Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and Brandon Jacobs along with an experienced offensive line. What might be a surprise to some this season will be Auburn's ability to throw the football.

Using timing routes on the outside along with a variety of formations designed to get the best players the ball as many times as possible, the passing game should improve with Campbell as the full-time starter this season. Helping in that cause will be more experience on the field with several key offensive weapons now in their second season of football.

"That's a huge point for us because last year those guys were freshmen," Campbell says of the passing game. "You had Devin, Ben, Cooper Wallace--all those guys were freshmen last year. Now they've had a whole season under their belts. They came straight out of high school to play last year and now they're sophomores. They know the system better and they know how to run a precise route, they know how to get off press-man coverages, they know how to sit down in zone coverages.

Campbell throws on the run in Auburn's 31-7 win over LSU last year.

"I think that is going to help us out a whole lot, especially me, having guys around you that can make plays," Campbell adds. "I'm just going to get them the ball and let them make plays. I feel like we've got guys that can do that this season. If people try to stack the box we'll have a great opportunity to make some plays. We have an opportunity to have a great offense, we just have to put all the pieces together. Now we just have to go out there and play."

A key part of the renaissance of Auburn football under Coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff, Campbell has seen the expectations grow in his first seasons on the Plains. While those expectations come with pressure, the smooth junior says that this team relishes the thought of being the hunted in 2003. "We take it as an honor," Campbell notes. "It has been a long time since Auburn was in a position like this going into a season. The main thing about it is that we tell each other to let it go in one ear and out the other, because as quick as you get up you can go down.

"You have to keep it in perspective," the quarterback says. "You have to go out and continue to work and when you step on the field it's one game at a time. You don't look down the road and you don't look past anyone."

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