Spring Preview: Borges Looks at Offense

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles previewing Auburn's spring football practices.

Auburn, Ala.--Coming off a season that was filled with good performances but ended on a sour note with a loss to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, the Auburn Tigers will be looking to get back to basics when they open spring practice on Feb. 28.

Offensively, the basics will begin with trying to replace six starters off the SEC's top offensive unit in 2005. With Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix, Jake Slaughter and Cooper Wallace gone from the skill positions as well as starting tackles Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick on the line, offensive coordinator Al Borges says that this spring will be big for several players looking to get into the rotation.

"Receivers and tackles have to come to the surface," Borges says. "Those two positions as well as fullback, someone has to show their head at fullback. Wide receiver is probably as big a deal as anything. We had a very good recruiting class, but they won't be here in the spring.

"This is going to give some of the young kids that have been in the program an opportunity to prove their worth. We've got three guys to replace. With Courtney (Courtney Taylor) and Prechae (Prechae Rodriguez), who played significantly, we'll be pretty solid there. Robert Dunn played a little bit, but this is a very important time for him."

Senior Courtney Taylor is looking to finish his career out in style.

In addition to those three, several other receivers will be looking to establish themselves as the Tigers build depth at the position. Senior Lee Guess is the most veteran of a group that includes sophomores Rodgeriqus Smith and James Swinton along with freshmen Montez Billings, Ulysses Alexander and walk-on Jarvez Williams.

Returning starters Joe Cope and Jonathan Palmer at center as well as guards Timmy Duckworth and Ben Grubbs give the Tigers a very strong middle returning on the offensive line. That leaves the tackle positions up for grabs with juniors Leon Hart and King Dunlap the odds-on favorites to win the jobs. Borges says that both have shown they can do the job, but now they have to prove it consistently.

"They've got some snaps," Borges says. "Leon has played some. It's not totally new to him. King hasn't played as much, but it's King's time now. It's his turn to show what he can do. We're replacing a six-foot-nine guy with a guy that's probably even taller. He's got to show he can be as productive as Marcus, which I think he can. He's had a chance to be in the wings a little bit. Now it's his turn to show us what he can do."

At tailback the Tigers return All-SEC performer Kenny Irons for his senior season as well as backups Brad Lester, Tre Smith and Carl Stewart. Also in for spring practice is highly-touted true freshman Ben Tate. The group should be one of the team strengths for the Tigers in 2006.

Running back Kenny Irons is back and will be shooting for his second-consecutive 1,000 yard season in 2006.

One of the most important positions to fill on offense this spring will be at fullback where Slaughter departs after a solid career leading backs into the hole. Sophomore Mike McLaughlin and walk-on Andrew Turman both have some experience, but Borges says the position is as wide open as it can be heading into spring football.

"Mike McLaughlin is back," Borges says. "He's going to have a great opportunity to show us what he's capable of. Stephen Gowland is another kid that is coming off an injury. We're going to take a good look at him. Andrew Turman has been in the wings for a while and will get a chance. They're all going to get a chance to show us whether or not they want some playing time. We'll do our two tailback stuff also and give Carl Stewart a look there."

Tight ends look to be a team strength as well despite the loss of Wallace. Senior Cole Bennett returns as the favorite to win the starting job, but redshirt freshmen Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie both showed signs of greatness last season during practice sessions and will make a push for playing time early and often.

Despite averaging a SEC best 34.2 points and 425.6 yards per game in last year's regular season, Auburn's players and coaches have the memory of a terrible performance against Wisconsin still fresh on their minds as they head into the spring. Borges says that it's important for the unit to build some confidence once again starting with starter Brandon Cox and the quarterbacks because their play is the key to the performance of the offense in the West Coast system.

"It's important because we played so poorly in the bowl game," Borges says of the offense. "We need to get back on track now. We're not going to ignore the fact that we didn't play well in that game. We had improved every game, I felt, from the first to the 11th. Then we took a step backwards for the first time all year in the bowl game.

"This spring is going to be about getting our feet back on the ground offensively with the quarterback position being one of those. Obviously at backup quarterback Blake (Blake Field) finished as the backup, but this will be a real important spring for Calvin Booker to see if he can push for that position."

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