2005 Spring Football Preview: Tight Ends

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles previewing spring football practice for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--With All-SEC candidate Cooper Wallace leading the way, tight end could develop into a strong position for the 2005 Auburn football team.

Wallace, a 6-4, 265-pound senior, is the returning starter. He has 43 catches for 634 yards and three touchdowns.

"I will probably treat Cooper a little bit differently than we have," says tight ends coach Steve Ensminger. "We will give him a lot of individual work early in practice during inside drills and pass skel. What we really want to do is keep him out of scrimmages and let the young kids work.

"He is has already showed us he can play," Ensminger adds. "We know what he can do so I am going to let him work like a coach and let him try to help make the young kids better. Besides working hard trying to get better, he has shown his leadership ability in winter workouts."

Ensminger says that he plans to give Wallace and all of the tight ends plenty of one-on-one work vs. defensive backs in spring training to improve the group's skills at running pass patterns. The coach says that will be especially valuable for Wallace. "I think he has the ability to be successful doing that," Ensminger notes. "There are some little techniques that have to get done."

Ensminger says that he likes Wallace's hands and ability to run deep routes. For the senior who has 26 career starts at Auburn, the main emphasis for the spring will be fine-tuning. "He is about 265 pounds and I think he carries that very well," the coach says. "I don't think he has to be any bigger."

Cooper Wallace is expected to be one of the top tight ends in the SEC this season.

Last year's top backup, Cole Bennett, will return as a junior. The six-foot-five tight end weighed as much as 255 pounds last year, but lost pounds during the season. He will try to keep his weight up this year to be more effective as a blocker.

"I am going to let Cole get a few more reps this spring than Cooper," Ensminger says. "He knows his role on this team. He has gotten better in run blocking. He played a lot more this past year. He is a ball control type of receiver. We are not going to ask him to run down the field and stretch it vertically and things like that. We are just going to improve his strengths.

"He knows the system," Ensminger adds. "He knows the offense. He knows both tight end positions. Cole will get more scrimmage time than Cooper, but I really want to look at everybody else."

Cole Bennett

Backup Kyle Derozan will get a late start to spring training. He is doing double-duty playing basketball for Coach Jeff Lebo. The basketball season is expected to wrap up for Auburn during the SEC Tournament, which runs March 10-13th. Spring football practice starts March 1, the spring game is March 19th and the Tigers will likely have several practice dates after the A-Day game.

Ensminger says Derozan, who made the move from defensive end to tight end last year, needs practice time with the offense. "He is one who needs to work," the coach says. "He didn't go through spring last year. He changed positions.

"In the fall, he really didn't have a clue how to block people," Ensminger adds. "He struggled early catching the ball, but as the year went on he got to become a better blocker and he caught the ball better. He needs spring practice more than anybody. I was kind of looking forward to him taking the majority of reps to see how much better we can make him for next year."

More depth at the position comes from Charles Mullen, a late signee in 2004 who was redshirted last season. Tommy Tuberville says that Mullen could get a look at a different position.

Walk-ons Danny Perry (6-2, 240) and Rick Pollard (6-3, 230) return for the Tigers. "Danny had an opportunity to play in a couple of games last year," Ensminger says. "I have a pretty good feel for what Danny and Rick Pollard can do and what their limits are."

Last season offensive lineman Leon Hart saw some spot duty at tight end in short yardage situations, but he is expected to concentrate on learning the center position this spring.

Although they won't be available until preseason practice in August, Ensminger will have three more tight ends to work with in highly regarded signees Andrew McCain from Birmingham, Gabe McKenzie from Mobile Tommy Trott from Montgomery. Ensminger says he is excited to add the trio into the mix.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges says that he is interested in making the tight end position a bigger part of the game plan each week and Ensminger says that will be something to watch this fall.

"I really do think that is the direction we are going with this offense," Ensminger says. "Sitting down and talking with Coach Borges, we are using more two tailbacks and two tight ends. The more athletic our tight ends are, the more we will be able to do that. He wants to be in a running set with two tight ends and be able to throw the football. When you have got two big tight ends in the ball game, defenses are thinking run and that is when you can make a big play.

"A couple of these tight ends you can split out. Most of the time you are going to get eight-man fronts. All of the sudden one of them splits out and you have a one-on-one situation. Everything is a matchup in football. I know you have heard Coach Borges say it. It all depends on personnel. I believe the better we get at tight end, the more the tight ends will be used in the offense."

Ensminger says the Tigers will likely see sets with two tight ends as well as three tight ends on the field at the same time. Last year tight ends lined up at fullback on occasion and that could happen again this year.

"I like the way this offense is going," Ensminger says.

As the Tigers get ready for spring drills with winter workouts now taking place, Ensminger says, "I know what the first two can do. I have got to find out about the others.

"The first thing they have to do is block. We are going to grind them pretty early. Being successful blocking has a lot to do about whether or not you want to put your nose in there and want to get it bloody and want to hit somebody. We are going to find out early who has the heart, who wants to stick their nose in and get after somebody. If they do, I believe as a coach we can make them better."

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