During Saturday's A-Day game, the focus of attention was the progress of sophomore quarterback Brandon Cox. The left-hander is heir apparent to Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Jason Campbell, who was a starter or part-time starter for four seasons for the Tigers after a redshirt season.
The offense's performance Saturday drew mixed reviews from Borges. Overall, Borges said he liked what he saw. However, he wasn't pleased that the day's offensive point production came from three John Vaughn field goals, two from 46 yards and another from 22 yards. The result was a 9-0 victory for the Cox-led Blue squad composed of the first offense and second defense.
"I thought we moved the ball pretty well, we've just got to finish drives," Borges observed. "I felt like we were back in the Sugar Bowl kicking field goals again."
Borges was referring to the Tigers' 16-13 victory over Virginia Tech to cap the perfect 2004 season. In that contest, Auburn managed only one touchdown to go with three Vaughn field goals.
Borges said it wasn't anything that he could specifically point out that kept the offense out of the end zone. "It was just something here and something there. To say it was just any one thing, I won't know until I see the tape."
With two days of spring practice remaining (Tuesday and Wednesday), Borges said he knows what he hopes to see out of the offense. "We're going to emphasize finishing drives. Moving the ball is one thing, but you can't be kicking field goals all day. Drives have to result in touchdowns. As we know what we are doing better and better, we'll have more points production."
As for Cox, Borges said, "I thought he was very comfortable and when he was protected well, he threw the ball pretty well. He demonstrated some really nice poise on some plays."
On the Blue offense's first two possessions, Cox led his team to Vaughn's first two fields goals on drives of 41 and 80 yards. The offense reached the eight-yard line and five-yard line before stalling. Cox was sacked by Stanley McClover to stall the first drive and a pair of incompletion as Cox was pressured halted the second drive.
By the end of the first half, Cox had competed 11 of 17 passes for 212 yards. Running backs were more of the focus in the second half as Cox finished the game at 13-of-22 for 226 yards. He was sacked five times, four by McClover and once by Quentin Groves, even though the defense played without the benefit of blitzing.
Asked why there was so much passing, especially in the first half, Borges explained, "When you're trying to develop a quarterback, you can't do it handing the ball off all day. You've got to throw the pass in there. We're going to run the football more than we did today. You're going to see pretty much the run to pass ratio you saw a year ago."
"All our quarterbacks need to throw the football under pressure," Borges pointed out. "When we call 25 to 30 passes a game, they'll know what they have to do."
Overall, Borges saw positives from Cox.
"The only thing I expected was improvement," he said. "After that, whatever happens would happen. I wanted him to be better than he was in our last practice on Thursday. I think he was better. He had a pretty good day."
Borges added that while the defense did pressure Cox, he did have some good pass protection most of the time. When Cox had the protection, Borges said he did well. "Those kids after him are good pass rushers," Borges noted.
The offensive coordinator was pleased with the running backs trio of juniors Trey Smith and Kenny Irons and sophomore Carl Stewart. They have the task of replacing Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown, both expected to be top 10 selections in the upcoming NFL draft.
Smith received a medical redshirt last season after injuring his shoulder while Irons sat out the season as required by NCAA regulations after transferring from South Carolina. Stewart rushed for 184 yards on 39 carries in limited action in 2004 as a redshirt freshman.
Irons led rushers Saturday with 83 yards on 18 carries, Stewart picked up 42 yards on 13 rushes and Smith finished with 37 yards on eight attempts.
"They are all good running backs and are going to play," Borges says. "Kenny is really good running inside. Trey is a great stop and go guy who can make the first guy miss. Carl has been our nicest surprise this spring. He's a very tough inside runner who breaks tackles. He's had a really good spring."
Borges mentioned the play of wide receiver Courtney Taylor, who caught three passes early, turning the short receptions into 65 yards with some impressive runs after the catch.
"With a playmaker like him (Taylor), you've got to get him the ball," Borges said. "We weren't going to overwork him today. He got a few balls and had some nice runs after the catch. We got out of him what we wanted today.
"In fact, I think we got out of today what we wanted from the whole thing. Offensively, you want to score more than nine points, but for the most part all you really want to say when you're done with it you took a step forward, and I think we did."
Borges said the spring has been good matchup with the offense and defense under new defensive coordinator David Gibbs.
"I think David has done a real good job of bringing those guys around," Borges explained. "We really exchanged punches pretty well this spring. I don't think one unit has been dominant. Some days the defense is the one that's dominant. Some days the offense was dominant.
"For the most part, it's been a pretty even exchange. And that's what you want spring football to be. I think that's indicative of what you want your quarterbacks to face. You don't want them to be stormed every play, but you don't want them to be standing back there with a false sense of security, either."
The affable Borges added, "We've just got to finish off with touchdowns and not just field goals. If we finish the drives, I'm smiling. Really, I'm smiling anyway. It was a good day."