For Tuberville that's just fine this time around because he has a football team that he really likes heading into 2004. Despite losing a solid group of seniors the Tigers return experience and depth on both sides of the ball and Tuberville says a group of seniors has stepped forward to provide the guidance every team needs to survive the tough SEC schedule.
"The attitude of the team is outstanding," Tuberville said. "In visiting with the players they are anxious to get started. The leadership is starting to show. You build your leadership in the summer before most of their junior and senior years. We have an opportunity to have great leadership on this team and that's going to have a big difference in how we play this season."
The summer has also given Tuberville and his staff the chance to see a freshman class working harder than any the veteran coach can remember. With almost the full signee class on campus at one time or another for voluntary workouts and impromptu coaching sessions from veterans like Jason Campbell and Bret Eddins, Tuberville said the group should be ready to give some help earlier than most this season.
"It's the first year that I have had this many freshmen on campus," Tuberville said. "We have had almost all of them working out for at least a month and going to class. It has been refreshing to know that most of our players have made it. We still have one (Korey Raymond) that is still in question. He hasn't cleared the clearinghouse, but has everything intact. We'll just have to wait and see how they rule on that. This has been a good year for us getting players in school and on campus to have an opportunity to help out early in the season."
As usual Tuberville said the team has been working hard this summer to get ready for the football season this fall. That means running in the mornings and getting in throwing sessions in the afternoon. Tuberville said that this fall will be a little different than previous two-a-days while he's been at Auburn because of the depth available. While there won't be a lot of running involved, the practices will be tough and feature a lot of live action to prepare the young defense for the job ahead of them.
"We work them hard in the summer so we don't have to do a lot of physical sprints and conditioning in two-a-days," Tuberville said. "We would rather teach and use most of our practice time to x's and o's and techniques. That works out pretty good for us.
"The weakness of this team is going to be the defense," Tuberville added. "In the past we've had one of the best defenses in the country and in the conference. I think we've got the ability to work towards that with the type of players we have, but we've got a lot to accomplish in two-a-days. Because of that we're going to have at least three big scrimmages. We're going to push the players to the limit in game situations. Last spring was very physical and we're going to continue from the spring into two-a-days. The only way to get experience is in game situations and we're going to put our players in a lot of that before we play our first game."
Losing talent like Karlos Dansby, Dontarrious Thomas, Reggie Torbor and Demarco McNeil is never an easy thing for a coaching staff, but Tuberville said he feels like they will be able to make the transition this season because of the depth available on that side of the ball. With a full compliment of scholarships at his disposal Tuberville said that several young players like Stanley McClover, Tristan Davis and Tony Bell have a chance to help out immediately, but one player in particular has become a key figure heading into the fall.
"This is the first time since I've been at Auburn that we've been at 85 scholarships," Tuberville said. "We have depth. A lot of it is not experienced and never will be when you have 85 because a lot of those guys have to be freshmen. We have a lot more players to choose from to put in different situations. There will be some of these freshmen play on the defensive side of the ball that give us an opportunity to win. Pat Sims is a guy that I point to. We have four decently experienced tackles going into the season not counting him. I think Pat Sims is going to be an integral part of what we do defensively and how we do it."
One change on the defense this coming season is a veteran and talented secondary returning with Carlos Rogers and Junior Rosegreen leading a group that improved drastically throughout the 2003 season. Tuberville said that having an experienced secondary makes the defense better because of the things you can do up front.
"The important part of that is that what our weakness was on defense last year is probably our strength this year, which is our secondary," Tuberville said. "Having an experienced secondary allows you to do more things with your front seven. I think that's going to be a point of emphasis when we go into two-a-days, how our secondary will hold up playing man coverage. Last year we played 40 percent more zone coverage than we did the year before. We didn't cause as many turnovers as we did the year before. That was the difference in how we played a lot of our games."
Offensively Tuberville said that Coach Al Borges has done a good job since coming to the Plains almost six months ago. Implementing a new offense in the spring, Auburn's plan begins and ends with Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown in the backfield along with the senior Campbell. Tuberville said the Tigers' plan this season is to get off the blocks in a hurry because of the inexperience on defense.
One lingering question since Williams and Brown announced their return to Auburn has been about the future of junior Tre Smith. A versatile and valuable performer for the Tigers in his first two seasons, Tuberville said Smith is scheduled to play this season on special teams and in the offense, but things could change before the first game is played.
"Right now he is scheduled to be our punt returner along with Carnell," Tuberville said. "One thing about Tre is that he wants to win games. If he can help win games he'll play. A lot of it will be going into these scrimmages in two-a-days if we get somebody with a turned ankle or beat up a little bit, he's obviously the guy that can step in and help Carnell and Ronnie. A lot of it depends on some freshmen coming in and being on the special teams to help him. Also some of it depends on Carl Stewart and how he plays in two-a-days. As of today he will play, but that will work itself out as we get to the first game."