Big plays, both bad and good, were the order of the day for a group that didn't live up to preseason expectations of being one of the strongest groups in the SEC. The expectations aren't as high heading into 2004 with the loss of leading receiver Jeris McIntyre, but Coach Greg Knox says that his group has a chance to do some good things next season.
"The main thing is we have some experienced guys coming back," Knox says. "They've got some experience under their belts. Most of that will help a bunch. As far as replacing Jeris I think he had a great year because of his experience. This year Silas (Silas Daniels) will be the lone senior who has the most experience."
A player who came on strong late in his junior year, Daniels will enter spring practice as the starter at one of the wide receiver positions. The 6-0, 193-pounder with good speed had the best year of his career in 2003 when he caught 23 passes for 284 yards and one touchdown. In victories over Alabama and Wisconsin in the bowl game Daniels totaled 10 catches for 102 yards.
Last season Obomanu caught 22 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns. While his year was solid, he had problems at times making the easy catches. His biggest game came on his worst night as he caught six passes for 150 yards and one touchdown against Ole Miss, but also dropped the potential game-winning touchdown pass from quarterback Jason Campbell with just seconds remaining.
Ben Obomanu catches a TD against Ole Miss.
Mix has been an enigma for his first two seasons as a Tiger. With the talent to dominate and the size to overwhelm opponents, he has had trouble finding his rhythm after moving back and forth between wide receiver and tight end. Last season he caught 21 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown, but didn't play the final two games because of an ankle injury. Knox says Mix will be a key for the Tigers in 2004 and his work begins this spring.
"He should get better after spending a full year at the receiver spot," Knox says. "He still has a lot to learn about route-running and he has a long way to go with his technique, but he should be able to improve during the spring."
Anthony Mix goes up high for the catch against Arkansas.
Backing up the starters will be Courtney Taylor (6-2, 195, So.) on one side, Devin Aromashodu (6-2, 205, Jr.) on the other side and sophomore Lee Guess (5-10, 177) behind Mix in the middle. Knox says that the group has some positives going for it and there are enough veterans in the mix to help Guess come along and Taylor and Aromashodu to keep growing.
"Experience is a big part of it," Knox says. "You can't replace experience. It's something that you get over time. The key for these guys is that we've got some guys that have played out there and got some experience under their belts."
Also on the depth chart for the Tigers this spring at receiver are walk-ons Maurice Anderson (6-3, 203, Rfr.), Jamoga Ramsey (5-10, 162, So.) and Craig Williams (5-10, 199, So.). Working at the position this spring will also be 6-5 Brad Smith, Evander Holyfield Jr. (6-3, 176) and Jeffrey Frazier (6-0, 180, Rfr.).
There is no question the talent is there, but the reality is that the wideouts, as a group, were disappointing in 2003. Knox says that while they'll continue to work hard, he believes the key is just to get the receivers to be comfortable with what they are doing and what the offense is doing as a whole.
"I think the more relaxed a guy is at a position the better he's going to play," Knox says. "No matter what position it may be. The main thing is to get them relaxed, learning the system and feeling good about what's going on."
Unlike the wide receiver position, the tight end spot is lacking in depth behind starter Cooper Wallace and back-up Cole Bennett (6-5, 244). With part-time tight end Ben Grubbs moving to the offensive line, the Tigers are left with just two scholarship players at the position heading into spring practice with new Coach Steve Ensminger.
A 6-4, 253-pounder, Wallace caught 16 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown last season with his biggest game coming against Georgia. Against the Bulldogs the former running back in high school had five catches for 60 yards. Not able to redshirt last season, Bennett was forced right into the action and responded like a veteran. Playing in 11 games with one start, he caught six passes for 66 yards and one touchdown. His best game came against Western Kentucky when he had three catches for 41 yards.
Backing up Wallace and Bennett this spring will be walk-on Rick Pollard (6-2, 234, So.), who has also worked some at defensive end since arriving on the Plains. Danny Perry (6-2, 245, RFr.) is another player that has shown improvement after coming from Auburn High School.
Defensive end Kyle Derozan, a redshirt sophomore, is expected to join the mix in the fall after he recovers from shoulder surgery he had done in Novemeber.
Head coach Tommy Tuberville re-assigned 2003 quarterback coach Steve Ensminger to coach tight ends this season with last year's coach, graduate assistant Patrick Moore, now helping Hugh Nall coach the offensive line.
Tuberville says he is expecting improved play from the position this year. "Cooper Wallace will be back as a junior and Cole Bennett will be a sophomore this year," he says. "With their additional experience they should be better and we should be better. I also think Danny Perry is going to help us at tight end."
Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a series of previews of spring football practice.
Up next: quarterbacks