Auburn's second year offensive coordinator and quarterback coach won praise from his starting QB last year, Jason Campbell, for helping the 2004 senior have one of the best seasons in Auburn history on the way to a 13-0 season and SEC Offensive Player of the Year status.
With Campbell getting ready to take his talents to the National Football League, one of the focuses of spring training at Auburn will be to pick a starter and establish who the No. 2 quarterback is going to be.
Brandon Cox, last year's number two quarterback, is back as a redshirt sophomore. Last year's number three quarterback, 6-1, 200 walk-on Dusty Goodwin, will be joined in the competition for playing time by a pair of players who redshirted last fall as true freshmen--6-3, 230 Calvin Booker and 6-2, 190 Blake Field.
Brandon Cox played well last spring as Al Borges installed his new offensive system.
"I think we have got four kids who will get the reps," Borges says. "Brandon Cox, who was the backup a year ago, will be one of our leading candidates simply because of experience. He doesn't have a lot of experience, but he was the number two in line.
"We are not handing the position to anybody," Borges notes. "We are going to make whoever our starting quarterback is earn it. Brandon has shown the ability to really pass accurately and we have got to get him in some pressure situations.
"We were lucky we got him in some games early on, but as the season went on and we got into some tougher opponents it gets harder and harder to get your backup quarterback in the games," Borges adds. "We got him some throws and I think he got his feet wet a little bit so he won't be completely new to our system."
The redshirt freshmen practiced on the scout team last fall and received extra attention after the SEC Championship Game when the Tigers were preparing for the Sugar Bowl. "Blake Field and Calvin Booker will probably come in pretty even," Borges says. "Both kids have shown in practice that they can do it although I haven't really coached them like I've coached Jason Campbell and Brandon Cox because they have been on the scout team.
"They both have a lot of ability, can throw the ball and both are athletic enough where they can get out of some messes and do some good stuff," Borges says. "Those two are potentially good quarterbacks. We just have to see how they develop through the 15 days of spring football.
"Dusty Goodwin, who played third quarterback last year as a walk-on, has a real fine throwing arm and was fortunate enough to sit in all of the meetings with us although he played very, very little. He probably knows the offense as well as any of the younger guys. Those four will be the kids we look at the most in the spring."
Blake Field played at North Florida Christian in Tallahassee, Fla., as a senior in high school.
Cox, a 6-2, 195 left-hander, played in seven games last season. He completed 22-34 passes for 357 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
"The big thing with Brandon is understanding all of the phases of the passing game with regard to check-downs and pass protections," Borges says. "Those are the big things. The fundamental things can always improve, but Brandon really improved fundamentally from the beginning of last spring until the end of this year. I was happy with him, but I still think there are a few more things he can improve fundamentally.
"From a mental standpoint, knowing all the check-down receivers in our offense, knowing how to plug protections based on which blitzes are coming, audibles... The one the thing Jason Campbell did such a great job for us is getting us in and out of bad plays. All of our quarterbacks, Brandon included, have to learn more about that."
Cox says he is working on learning the offense as well as getting bigger and stronger. The six-foot-two QB weighed between 195 and 200 pounds last season. He is hoping to signficantly bigger in the fall. "My goal is to be 215 pounds on opening day," Cox says.
Borges says that none of the QBs has a huge edge over the others in passing ability. "We don't have any rifle arms, yet we don't have any weenie arms," he says. "They are pretty balanced that way. I think Calvin Booker, because he is a big strong kid, has the ability to get the ball there fast. Really, arm strength is so overrated. The big thing about it is the ability to get the ball from point A to point B with consistency. That is really the key to the position."
The Tigers are expected to take the practice field on March 1st and play their annual spring game on March 19th at Jordan-Hare Stadium. They are expected to practice several more days after their annual A-Day Game.
Calvin Booker was a standout in football and basketball at Mayes High in Atlanta.
"It's going to be fun to watch them compete," Borges says. "Last year we had decided that Jason was going to be our quarterback and that was the end of that discussion. This year we are a little more open minded in terms of giving everyone a chance to win the position because it is new.
"Jason's gone now and someone has to come in and take charge and I think the quarterback position is going to dictate so much how well we do offensively next year," Borges says.
"We got such great play out of our quarterback a year ago," Borges adds. "This is no mystery that he determines so much of your success or failure, not just offensively--team success and failure."