Tuberville Expects Fewer Changes

Auburn's head football coach is looking to put together a team that can make a run at the SEC title.

Auburn, Ala.--After putting his football Tigers through a very busy spring full of changes, Tommy Tuberville is predicting a less eventful preseason. The Auburn head coach says the emphasis will be on fine-tuning what the Tigers learned in spring drills.

"Unless we have a lot of injuries, I don't anticipate many position changes like we had in the spring," Tuberville says.

The Tigers will return to the practice field in early August with the first full squad practice scheduled on the 8th, four days after the freshmen are scheduled to report. That will give the Tigers a little more than three weeks to prepare for the nationally televised opener on Sept. 2nd in California against the USC Trojans.

New defensive coordinator Gene Chizik is expected to direct a more aggressive defense than the Tigers played with John Lovett as coordinator.

Tuberville kept his Tigers busy in their 15 days of on-the-field spring practices by installing new offensive and defensive systems under the direction of new offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino and new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. In addition to those changes, it was a eventful spring for some individual players making position changes.

A pair of reserve cornerbacks were moved to the safety spots and responded with impressive performances. Both are now the heavy favorites to be in the starting lineup on opening night vs. Southern Cal. Senior Travaris Robinson jumped former starters Donnay Young and Stanford Simmons to move to No. 1 on the free safety depth chart. Sophomore Junior Rosegreen is the No. 1 strong safety ahead of Roshard Gilyard, a junior with starting experience.

Travaris Robinson showed he could be physical after making the move to safety.

One of the biggest moves of the spring was to send talented young tight end Jay Ratliff to the defense to help shore up the end position. The jury is still out on how that will develop because the sophomore missed most of the spring due to injury. "We really need for Jay to come through for us this season," Tuberville says. "He has the athletic ability to really help us at end."

Tuberville predicts that the Tigers can have a solid one-two punch at the strongside defensive end position with improving redshirt sophomore Bret Eddins sharing playing time with Ratliff. At the weakside defensive end spot, the head coach says that he expects to see junior Reggie Torbor step forward and become one of the leaders of the defense. He says that redshirt freshman Steven Bouldin made significant progress in the spring. Bouldin is currently recovering after suffering a broken bone in his leg from a four-wheeler accident, but is expected to be back in action for the start of practice in August.

Another major move in the spring sent redshirt freshman Jake Slaughter from defense to offense. He began spring drills as a reserve middle linebacker and finished as a defensive end, however, soon after the A-Day Game was completed he began preparing for a switch to offense where he will try to break into the playing rotation at fullback. He played fullback in high school so he will be at home in his position. Tuberville says he likes Slaughter's toughness and believes that Slaughter will contribute immediately to Petrino's offense.

Jake Slaughter is shown trying to rush the passer as a defensive end in spring drills as Rich Trucks blocks.

Tuberville notes that Slaughter will give the Tigers another dependable blocker at a position where projected starter Brandon Johnson missed spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery. When asked if he is concerned about the hard-hitting Johnson's durability, Tuberville said. "No. I think, Brandon will be fine. We just have got to have more depth there with what we are doing." The Tigers did not sign any fullbacks this year, but do have senior Michael Owens returning in a reserve role as well as Victor Horn, who is expected to see some work at tailback, too. Blocking has not been the strong suit for either Horn or Owens.

At least one more player making a position change is expected to start for the Tigers this year. Karlos Dansby has adjusted well to his new role at linebacker after playing the whip spot, a hybrid position that is similar to playing strong safety. Tuberville says that he expects Dansby to be a thorn in the side of opposing offenses this fall.

On offense, the head coach says the staff is still looking at the possibility of playing junior Monreko Crittenden at both offensive guard and tackle this fall. The 6-5, 338-pound junior finished the spring No. 1 on the depth chart at strongside guard. As a sophomore, he started 10 times at tackle. "We are going to play Monreko at guard and tackle," Tuberville says." He knows both positions. He's valuable for us. We have just got to get him in great shape."

The return to good health of a pair of redshirt freshmen should bolster the offensive front. Steven Ross and Taylor Bourgeois missed spring drills, but both are expected to be significant contributors this fall. Ross can play center, guard or tackle. While Bourgeois is a relative unknown to many Auburn fans after redshirting last fall, the coaching staff is well aware of the 6-5, 292-pounder's athleticism and tenacity. He is expected to push Ryan Broome for the starting job.

With redshirt freshman guard David Walker going home and not expected back, sophomore reserve center Danny Lindsey is expected to move to guard. If he learns the position as quickly as Auburn coaches expect, Lindsey will have a chance to be in the starting lineup by opening night.

The competition for playing time on the offensive front is expected to intensify in July when a trio of highly-regarded signees from the state of Georgia arrive on campus early to get a head start on spring practice. Tuberville and offensive line coach Hugh Nall both say that newcomers Marcus McNeill, Jonathan Palmer and Troy Reddick will each have a chance to play this fall as true freshmen. Tuberville says he will count on fifth-year senior Ben Nowland, the starting center, to be a steadying influence on the OL this fall.

Tuberville says by the end of spring training, the Tigers had installed all of their blitzes and formations on defense and put in their entire offensive system. Overall, he says he was very pleased with the progress the defense made and says the offense needs more work. "That is what you would expect when you put in a new offense because it is easier to pickup a defensive system," the coach says.

Tiger Ticket Extra: After spending 10 consecutive days on the job morning, afternoon and evening with a series of football camps, many of the AU football coaches are taking time off this week, including Tuberville who headed to the beach in Florida with his family.


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