Football Newcomers Looking To Fit In

The 2003 signees face the challenge of breaking into the playing rotation on a football team with a lot of experience returning.

Auburn, Ala.--With eight starters back on offense and eight more starters back on defense from a team that won nine games last year, there is a lot of good news for Auburn coaches as they prepare for the 2003 football season.

However, for members of the 2003 signee class who want to play immediately that may not be the news they want to hear. The presence of so many returning starters, plus some impressive and experienced backups, leaves the Tigers two-deep at most positions. In fact, this should be a tougher Auburn seasons for signees to break into the playing rotation. However, there are a few positions where a newcomer has a decent chance to make an impact.

Offensively, the Tigers lost two tight ends (Lorenzo Diamond and Robert Johnson) and two of the tight end signees, Kevin Williams and Kenny Williams, did not qualify academically. Kenny Williams from Hialeah, Fla., is headed to junior college (Reedley College in California) while Kevin Williams of Sebastian River, Fla., is expected to report in January.

Tight end Cole Bennett

That leaves the door open for 6-5, 245 Cole Bennett from Dalton, Ga., High, a four-year starter whose senior season was shortened due to a knee injury. He is physically ready to compete and has added 15 pounds since he signed with the Tigers. An honor student who runs well, Bennett is expected to get a long look to back up Cooper Wallace, Anthony Mix and Steven Ross. He has been on campus working out this summer to get a head start on the 2003 season. Mix is a converted wide receiver and Ross is also an offensive tackle.

Quick and athletic Bruce Edwards is a player who could see early action as a backup at wide receiver. The 5-10, 165-pounder with 4.48 40-yard dash speed from Columbus, Miss., High is a high achiever on the athletic field and in the classroom just like Bennett. Position coach Greg Knox is looking for depth when the Tigers go to three and four wide receiver sets so Edwards will get a long look to see if he is ready to contribute right away.

A pair of high school teammates from Brentwood, Tenn., Academy will be two of the most closely scrutinized freshmen. Kody Bliss, a 5-11, 170 punter/kicker, could challenge punter redshirt freshman Michael Gibson for a starting job. Bliss averaged 47.0 yards on 35 punts as a senior with 10 downed inside the five. His net punting average was 44.0. He punted 60 times as a junior for a 52.0 average. Gibson didn't show enough consistency in the spring to lock up a starting role at punter.

Brentwood's John Vaughn will challenge junior Philip Yost, who had a strong all-around spring performance as a field goal kicker and kickoff specialist. Vaughn, who is 6-1, 175, made 39-44 field goals in high school and 137-142 PATs. As a senior, he was seven of nine with his misses coming from 39 and 53 yards out. After watching Damon Duval struggle last year with consistency, Tuberville will like Vaughn a lot if the freshman is as accurate in college as he was in high school. Both freshmen kickers have been working out on campus this summer.

The Tigers plan to work on the kicking game at least an hour each of the first five days of practice after the team works for two hours at the intramural fields starting with a 10 a.m. session on Wednesday. The kicking team practices will be at the football complex's new artificial turf outdoor field immediately following the regular practice.

Defensively, a major focus of the 2003 signee class was to bolster the Tigers at end and tackle, positions where depth has been a problem in recent seasons. The group of defensive linemen may be the most impressive part of this signee class.

A player with the physical tools to contribute right away is end Doug Langenfeld, 6-3, 247 pounds with exceptional quickness. The Tigers won a national recruiting battle to get the South Carolina native out of Reedley Junior College in California. He picked Auburn over South Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Nebraska, Washington, Florida and many other offers. Langenfeld has been on campus all summer working out after helping his team to a 12-0 record last season with 86 tackles and 14.5 sacks.

Langenfeld is one of two juco defensive ends who will be playing their first season for the Tigers. Tony McClain, who arrived in time for spring training, is a 6-3, 270-pounder who was injured in April, but should be ready for preseason drills. He will be a sophomore in eligibility this fall.

The Tigers signed impressive high school defensive ends such as 6-4, 230 Quentin Groves from Weston High in Greenville, Miss.; 6-4, 220 Marquies Gunn from Benjamin Russell High in Alexander City; and 6-4, 255 Stanley McClover from Dillard High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Groves, who has exceptional speed, was considered the top defensive end prospect in the state of Mississippi last season. Gunn had impressive junior and senior seasons. He made 123 tackles with 22 quarterback sacks in 2002. McClover had an eye-opening 27 sacks as a senior, however, there is a question about his academic eligibility.

After sitting out of football for a year while becoming a full academic qualifier, 6-4, 307 defensive tackle Timmy Duckworth, Jason Campbell's cousin from Taylorsville, Miss., looks ready to challenge for early playing time.

Josh Thompson

The strongest freshman is defensive lineman Josh Thompson, a 6-1, 295-pounder from Statesboro, Ga., High, where he was a two-time All-State pick and a three-time state weightlifting champion. Thompson runs well, too, playing linebacker much of his senior season.

Tuberville says the Tigers should know soon if McClover has cleared the NCAA Clearinghouse, which has the final say on which athletes qualify academically. "Everything is in and he should be fine," Tuberville says of McClover. Safety/linebacker Montavian Collier came up short and cannot play this fall for the Tigers.

Another signee whose academic status is not resolved yet is cornerback David Irons, Jr., who plays a position where there is the potential for immediate playing time. Irons must take care of business with his junior college classes to be eligible to play for the Tigers as a sophomore this fall. Tuberville says he should know what the defensive back's status is around August 15th, which means that Irons could miss nine to 10 practices.

David Irons covers Jeris McIntyre in a voluntary summer workout at AU.

Tuberville says playing cornerback is "just mostly technique" and "not mental," so there is a chance that Irons could challenge for early playing time despite watching much of the preseason from the sideline. "He doesn't have to learn a lot," the coach says. "You either play man or zone. Being the outside guy, you normally cover the outside so it is not as important at being at every practice like a quarterback or linebacker...Until he is cleared and qualified, he obviously won't be able to do anything." The cornerback's father, David Irons, Sr., played NFL ball for the Detroit Lions. Irons has been working out in the afternoons with his future teammates in pass coverage drills with the other defensive backs and wide receivers and quarterbacks.

In addition to Irons, the Tigers signed several incoming freshmen who should receive serious looks at cornerback, where the Tigers return starter Carlos Rogers, but graduated three seniors (Roderick Hood, Horace Willis and Rashuad Walker) who all had experience as starters. Eric Brock, a 6-1, 180-pounder from Benjamin Russell High in Alexander City, Ala., was a two-way player in high school, but is expected to settle in at either cornerback or safety in college.

Patrick Lee, a 6-0 1/2, 187-pounder from Columbus High in Miami, Fla., is considered one of the top athletes in the signee class. He will get his first look at cornerback, too. He used his quickness to block eight kicks as a senior to go with 70 tackles and three interceptions.

Other players expected to report for fall workouts include:

*Jarrod Britt, a 6-5, 303 offensive guard from McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga., who looks to be one of the more athletic OL signees at Auburn in recent years. He got a very early start on college preparations, arriving on campus in late spring to work out with the Tigers. Britt looks to have much above average strength for a freshman.

*Montavian Collier is a 6-2, 215-pounder from Opelika High, who made 74 tackles with four interceptions as a senior. He drew offers from major colleges despite not playing football as a sophomore and junior.

*Courtney Denson is a 6-0, 176 quarterback from Central High in Miami, Fla., who has a strong arm and runs very well. He led his team to a 10-2 record last season.

*King Dunlap, the son of a former NFL player with the same name, was a standout on both offense and defense who projects as an offensive tackle at Auburn. Dunlap was also a basketball standout at Brentwood Academy, where he was named Division II, Class 3A Mr. Football. He is the tallest signee in the group in the six-foot-eight range.

*Tailback Brandon Jacobs, 6-4, 258 pounds, got a head start on his junior season by transferring to AU in time for spring practice. He rushed for 1,899 yards and 20 TDs last season at Coffeyville, Kan., Community College.

*Kelcy Luke, 6-1, 1/2, 188, was a Class 6A All-State performer at quarterback for Central High in Phenix City. He passed for 1,636 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior and rushed for 388 yards and three scores while leading his team to an 11-2 record.

*Like his juco teammate Brandon Jacobs, Tony McClain arrived at AU early and participated in spring drills. He made 88 tackles with 19 sacks last season at defensive end. McClain is recovering from a spring injury, but should be ready to practice this month, Tuberville says.

*It is tough to imagine a more difficult position to break into the playing rotation at than tailback for the 2003 Auburn Tigers. Carl Stewart, a 6-1, 207 running back from Maryville, Tenn., High, comes to Auburn with impressive credentials. He rushed for 1,654 yards and 28 TDs as senior, winning the 4A Mr. Football Award as he led his team to the state title for a second straight year. He was also an outstanding student at Maryville.

*A player who can handle either fullback or linebacker, Rudy Taylor is a 6-1, 250-pounder from Chaminade Madonna Prep in Hollywood, Fla. He was nicknamed "Baby Butkus" for his physical style of play.

Tez Doolittle

Signee Tez Doolittle from Opelika will not be practicing with the other freshmen in August and may choose to sit out fall semester and enroll in January to prevent using his redshirt season. Doolittle had two summer surgeries, one for a groin problem and a most recent one to repair a shoulder injury. The 6-3, 270 fullback/defensive end is in recovery mode now.

"He did not pass the physical with his shoulder," Tuberville says. "It kept going in and out. The doctors said there was no way he could play until he had his shoulder repaired. Two weeks ago he had his shoulder repaired by Dr. (Larry) Lemak, who said he will be fine. He will not be able to practice until October. We are going over all of the scenarios whether to start him now or wait until January. I would rather start him now, but we are going to let him and his family make that decision. The biggest thing he is going to have to do is rehab the next few months to get ready for January."

The first week of practice is vitally important to the newcomers if they want to have a chance to play this season, especially in the opening day showdown with West Coast power Southern Cal on August 30th at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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