Bigger Stewart Ready For Expanded Role

Sophomore running back Carl Stewart talks about the offense heading into the 2005 season.

Auburn, Ala.–-The running back position has often been a strength for Auburn football. With the losses of Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown to the NFL this season, many believe that won't be the case for the Tigers in 2005, but redshirt sophomore Carl Stewart could be one of the many reasons why Auburn should again be a force to be reckoned with running the football.

A powerful player who has gained nearly 20 pounds since arriving on the Auburn campus two summers ago, Stewart is expected to see plenty of action this season along with projected starter Tre Smith, transfer Kenny Irons and redshirt freshman Brad Lester. While the group won't go a long way on name recognition as the season inches closer to beginning, Stewart says he sees some good signs out of the backs and the offense so far this fall.

"Through the first week we've made some strides in the right direction," Stewart says. "We know as a team we're a long way off from where we want to be."

Stewart is a more explosive back now than when he got to Auburn.

Things didn't get off to a great start for the backs as Smith was forced to miss the first full week of practice after having emergency surgery. While he is expected back this week and should be fine for the first game against Georgia Tech on Sept. 3, Smith's absence allowed the other backs to get more work and for Stewart he says it was a way to improve his knowledge of the offense.

"It definitely helps me get the plays down pat," Stewart says of the extra work. "It's becoming second-nature. I don't have to think about them any more. It's just the endurance factor as well, having to be out there the extended number of plays is really helping me keep my breath out there on the field."

In 2004 Brown was a player who showed his versatility and commitment to the team by playing both running back and fullback at different times last season. While Jake Slaughter is the unquestioned number one at fullback, Stewart will see some action there as well this season. He says that the extra weight has given him some added confidence that he can get the job done in the SEC week in and week out.

"I feel very good out there," Stewart says. "I think the biggest improvement I have seen with my new size and added strength is in pass blocking and things like that. I'm really starting to meet guys in the hole and there's no more getting pushed back.

"That's a big emphasis," he adds. "If you can't pass block out here then you're not going to play. There's too much talent on all the defenses in the SEC not to be able to pass block."

Another change for the offense is at quarterback where Brandon Cox takes over for Jason Campbell this season as the starter following a year that saw Campbell win SEC Player of the Year honors and be drafted in the first round by the Washington Redskins. Stewart notes that while it will be tough for Cox to match those honors, he believes he'll do just fine when called upon this fall.

"I've said this from the beginning, Brandon is a student of the game," Stewart says. "He's really gotten out there and knows the plays. He's going to be a very good leader."

As is the case with most fall practices the defense has been ahead of the offense through the first week. Sunday was a different story though as Auburn's offense had its best day so far despite practicing in a driving rain for much of the practice. Stewart says that they expect to get hit early by the defense and then rebound for a solid day, but he's looking for a little more killer instinct out of the offense as the opening kickoff gets nearer.

"Our main focus has been recover," Stewart says. "We always try to get an early start on the defense and that's something that we have to work on in practice. Sunday we wanted to get started really early and take a positive step and try to get all these plays down right.

"Instead of recover we need to be more determined to get a jump early," Stewart adds. "I think the beginning parts of our practices have been kind of rough lately and that has played a role in our whole practice. If we get into a game and can start out early then I think we'll roll on through it."

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