Notable Additions: Stanley McClover, DE, 6-2, 260, Soph.; OL Leon Hart, 6-4, 290, Fr.
Notable Subtractions: DT Demarco McNeil, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Dontarrious Thomas, DE Reggie Torbor, DT Spencer Johnson.
Notable Returnees: Jason Campbell, QB, 6-5, 228, Sr.; Bret Eddins, DE, 6-5, 267, Sr.; Tommy Jackson, NG, 6-1, 304, Jr.; Ben Obomanu, WR, 6-1, 193, Jr; Tre Smith, TB, 5-10, 197, Jr; Courtney Taylor, WR, 6-2, 195, Soph.
Offensive Overview: The Tigers return most key players on offense, including All-America candidate Carnell Williams, one of the top running backs in Auburn history. The Cadillac will share time in the backfield with another tailback, Ronnie Brown, a former All-SEC player himself. New offensive coordinator Al Borges is expected to play both of the tailbacks at the same time.
One of Auburn's keys to success will be the play of fifth-year senior quarterback Jason Campbell. He is a returning starter who had a good spring under Borges' version of the West Coast Offense. He will be protected by a potentially strong offensive line featuring veteran offensive guard Danny Lindsey. Juniors Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick, the projected tackles, are returning starters although Reddick played guard last year. Senior Jeremy Ingle is expected to break into the starting lineup at center and Ben Grubbs, who performed well as a blocking tight end last season, moves inside to guard. Depth on the offensive line should be better. Highly regarded recruit Leon Hart will try to work his way into the playing rotation this fall at tackle.
The receiving corps, which did not have a good 2003 season, made strides in spring training. Courtney Taylor was impressive and Devin Aromashodu, Silas Daniels and Ben Obomanu give the Tigers four deep threats. Tight end Cooper Wallace is potentially one of the best in the SEC at his position. Cole Bennett is coming off a solid season as a true freshman tight end.
The offense played well in the spring, holding the upper hand over the defense in most of the scrimmages. New coordinator Borges says he was pleased with the progress, but wants to see improvement prior to opening day.
Defensive Overview: The Tigers ranked fourth nationally in total defense, but will be hard-pressed to match that statistic in 2004. In addition to losing star senior linebackers Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby to the NFL, three of the front four starters have graduated along with key reserve Dexter Murphy. That group included multi-year starters Demarco McNeil, Reggie Torbor and Spencer Johnson.
Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik welcomes back a veteran secondary led by preseason All-SEC pick Carlos Rogers, who will be starting for a fourth season. Rogers is a pro prospect who looks ready for a big senior season. The question at cornerback is who will start at the other spot. David Irons finished spring training number one ahead of Montae Pitts, who ended the season as the starter in Auburn's bowl victory over Wisconsin. Irons is a junior and Pitts is a sophomore. However, Irons suffered a knee injury in preseason.
Kevin Hobbs, who started seven games at cornerback last season as a sophomore, moved to free safety in the spring where he was No. 2 behind returning starter Will Herring, who will be a sophomore this fall. With Irons being injured, Hobbs is likely to see action at cornerback again this season. Herring and senior strong safety Junior Rosegreen are returning starters. Rosegreen, a second team preseason All-SEC pick, is one of the team's most experienced players.
Up front, the Tigers will count on a blend of veterans and newcomers. At one end, senior Bret Eddins is the returning starter backed up by another senior, Doug Langenfeld. On the other side, Stanley 'The Predator' McClover has plenty of potential as a pass rusher. Marquis Gunn, Quinton Groves and juco transfer Christopher Browder are expected to add depth.
At noseguard, junior T.J. Jackson has seen significant playing time as a backup the past two years. He will likely share playing time at the position with redshirt freshman Josh Thompson, the team's strongest player. Jackson suffered a preseason elbow injury, but should not miss more than one game.
At tackle, Jay Ratliff emerged from spring as the number one player. The senior is making a move inside from end, where he was a backup last season. Wayne Dickens, a junior, is expected to see extensive playing time at tackle. Newcomer Pat Sims could add depth for the Tigers. Dickens can also play noseguard for the Tigers.
Special Teams Overview: Kody Bliss won the punting job as a true freshman last year and is the heavy favorite to handle that duty again this season. John Vaughn, another sophomore, finished spring as the number one field goal kicker, but could be challenged by senior Philip Yost. Yost is scheduled to handle kickoffs. Tre Smith and Carnell Williams handled punts last year. AU may look to newcomers such as Jerald Watson to add speed to the kickoff return game. Pete Compton, a redshirt freshman, will likely be the deep snapper. Sam Rives or Wesley Hill will hold for field goals.
Auburn can take the SEC title if... the Tigers have a big year from Campbell at quarterback and the rebuilt defensive front proves that it is ready for top level SEC opposition.
|TheInsiders.com 2004 College Football Preview|
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