Who will be Jason Campbell's backup is one of the key questions to be answered on offense during spring training 2004. New offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Al Borges will choose between Brandon Cox and Kelcy Luke and the decision is coming soon. Head coach Tommy Tuberville says he wants the pecking order to be established quickly this spring.
"It will be after the scrimmage on Saturday we will name a number two guy," Tuberville says. "Then we will have a number three guy after that. It is hard to work many more than three. We really want to make sure the number two guy gets as many reps as the number one guy with this new offense."
Campbell, a 6-5, 228-pound fifth-year senior, enters the 2004 season with 27 career starts and nine more games of experience coming off the bench. However, he will start from the same point with the other QB candidates in learning Borges' hybrid West Coast Offense system.
For Campbell, the new coordinator is the fourth different position coach he has played for beginning with Noel Mazzone and moving on to Bobby Petrino to Steve Ensminger to Borges. "I am just going to continue to work," Campbell says. "I am very coachable so, you know, I am just going to listen to what he has to say.
"Obviously, he was considered one of the top coordinators in the country the year he won assistant coach of the year and he has been in the (pros) before so he has got that experience that you can¹t take away from him," Campbell adds. "So, you really have to listen to him."
Last year's backup, Sullivan, was headed into his redshirt sophomore season in football juggling duties as a baseball and football player. However, on Sunday, after meeting with Tuberville, Sullivan decided he wanted to focus on baseball and will not play any more football for the Tigers. Sullivan completed 20-28 passes for 213 yards with one touchdown last season in reserve duty in four lopsided Auburn victories.
Kelcy Luke looks to make a splash at quarterback in spring training.
Luke, a six-foot, 199-pounder from Central High in Phenix City, made steady progress last season in practice and threw the football well while leading the scout team. Tuberville says he likes Luke's athleticism and arm strength.
The other redshirt freshman in the mix, Cox, is a 6-2, 196-pounder who is the former Alabama Mr. Football winner as a record-setting passer at Hewitt-Trussville High. The left-handed QB originally signed with the Tigers in February 2002, but sat out of school that fall while recovering from an illness. Cox returned for the 2003 season, but was redshirted. Tuberville says he is encouraged by what he has recently seen from Cox.
Brandon Cox is shown at the first day of spring practice.
"I have been really impressed with Brandon on how much he has improved over the last two or three months," Tuberville says. "This is the first offseason he has made it through physically healthy. He has had the disorder over the last few years. He has come out of it real well. He hasn¹t missed a practice. He has worked hard. He has gained about 20 pounds. It looks like his arm strength is a lot better.
"He has been the most accurate quarterback we that we have had," adds Tuberville, who notes that the problem with Cox in the past was that he missed significant practice time due to his health problems. Tuberville says that Cox must prove he is a guy the coaches can rely on week after week, practice after practice.
"Last year, I still had some health problems," Cox says. "So far this year I have been healthy--100 percent working out and I have put on about 10 pounds, which is mostly muscle, and that has helped my arm strength and my speed. I am just going to continue to work hard and try to put on 10 more pounds."
Cox notes with Sullivan going to baseball on a full-time basis, opportunity awaits. "It gives me a good shot to step up and compete for the backup position," Cox says.
Two other QBs are in spring practice. Wesley Hill, a 6-3, 217 redshirt sophomore, played briefly in two games last season, but he did not throw a pass. Dusty Goodwin, a 6-1, 209 redshirt freshman walk-on from Demopolis High, was one of the top high school passers in the state of Alabama as a high school senior.
Campbell started all 13 games for the Tigers last season and completed 181-293 passes for 2,267 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 61.8 percent of his passes. For his AU career, Campbell is completing 62.3 percent of his passes and has thrown 25 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He has 4,599 career passing yards.
"He looks like you want him to look," Borges says of Campbell. "He looks like he has got a big arm. He looks like he can make some things happen when there is nothing there. There is nothing better as a play-caller when you don't call the play perfectly the guy can still do something. He looks like he has those type of skills."
Borges says that he expects Campbell will work hard to be able to make a smooth transition to another offensive system and a new position coach "I have had other kids in that situation and that is tough," Borges says. "It is not easy. I think if you don¹t try to re-invent the wheel and try improve on some of the things he doesn¹t do as well and don¹t screw up the things he does well, I think you have a chance."
Borges says he is "throwing some new things" at Campbell in practice this week. "My personality isn't the same as the people who have been coaching him so that is going to take a little adjustment, too," says Borges, who likes the work ethic and attitude he has observed so far from the quarterbacks.
Commenting on what he has seen from the backups after one practice, Borges says, "I am going to need a little more time to make an accurate assessment, but I think Cox and Kelcy Luke both have good arms. I think they can make all the throws. Then again, we are starting all over with both of them. It is going to be hard and not really fair to give an assessment right now until they have learned it a little bit and get some repetitions. I like them so far and think they will be okay."
Campbell says he knew who Borges was prior to his new coach's arrival at AU in February to become QB coach and offensive coordinator. "I had heard of him when he was at UCLA when they had Freddie Mitchell and those guys," Campbell notes.
Last season, Hugh Nall was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, but this season Nall will return to his duties as the full-time line coach. Ensminger has moved from coaching quarterbacks in 2003 to being in charge of the tight ends this season.
Campbell says he was impressed with what he saw from Borges when he watched his UCLA teams and expects the West Coast Offense to work nicely for the 2004 Tigers because it is similar in style to what Campbell ran at Taylorsville, Miss., High School. "I think that he knows what he is doing," says Campbell.
Jason Campbell, who was MVP of the Music City Bowl, returned to the practice field on Sunday for his final spring training.
Tuberville says he is expecting a big season from Campbell this fall. "He is a young man that has improved each year, and this year is no different," the head coach says. "A lot of people point to Jason, saying he did not have a great game so we did not win, and it does start with the quarterback, however he has made tremendous strides over the years. Again it is unfortunate for him that we have changed him around some, but it has not been as much change as people think. The thought process has changed, but not the basis of the offense. I am looking forward to Jason having a great spring."
Borges says he is looking forward to his first shot at coaching in the SEC. "For me this is a great opportunity to get into a conference for years and years I have watched," he says. "I know how tough it is. I know week in and week out the battles we are going to deal with. The nice thing to know is that the supporting cast is such that I believe you can succeed. That is all any coach can ask for.
"Coaching in the South will be new for me, but I am looking forward to that, too, because I know what kind of enthusiasm towards there is towards the game of football. It is much like my own. I am a football junkie through and through."
The quarterbacks have 14 more practice days this spring to work on Borges' offensive system that will be on display March 20th at the annual A-Day spring football game.
Editor's Note: This is the ninth and last in a series of position previews of 2004 Auburn spring football.