2006 Auburn Football Preview: Wide Receivers

Auburn, Ala.--While some Auburn fans are worried about their team's wide receiver corps, the man who coaches the position for Tommy Tuberville's Tigers says he is excited about the challenge of putting together a rebuilt group for 2006.

"I am looking forward to it," says wideout coach Greg Knox, whose players took the practice field to begin preseason drills on Wednesday.

Knox is looking to blend a small group with game experience with a larger group of younger players with potential but little or no collegiate playing time.

"With the guys who have been around, the number one thing is we are looking for guys to step up and make some plays this fall," Knox says. "We gave some guys the opportunity to do that in the spring and they stepped up and did that. We need to continue on that pace of getting better and improving as we head to the fall."

The player leading the way will be Courtney Taylor, Knox says. He battled through a high ankle sprain as a junior and contributed throughout the season, even though he was not full speed.

"Courtney had a great sophomore season and had a good junior season except for the injuries that slowed him down, but he still played well and was productive," Knox says. "If he can stay healthy his senior year, he has a great chance of being productive. Without a doubt, he is going to be one of the best players I have ever coached and there have been some good ones come through here in the past eight years."

Taylor, a 6-2, 209-pounder with 1,380 career receiving yards, is the only returnee of the big four group of wideouts from last season. The other three, Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Anthony Mix, are all trying to make a living playing professionally in the NFL.

Coach Greg Knox is an original member of Tommy Tuberville's Auburn coaching staff.

Knox says he is also expecting a strong year out of junior 6-4, 204 Prechae Rodriguez, who joined the team last season out of junior college as a redshirt sophomore. Rodriguez had 13 catches for 240 yards. "He is a guy we need to have step up," the coach says. "He got his feet wet last year. He was able to play quite a bit for us and he was productive in certain games and situations.

"Prechae is a guy who needs to step up to the plate this fall," Knox adds. "It is kind of like his job opposite Courtney. He was brought in to fill that spot after the three guys left who were seniors last year. He was a guy coming out of junior college with a little bit more experience and a little bit more upside to him. The ball is in his court. He has worked hard and has had a good summer. We are looking forward to watching him this fall."

Another player looking for an expanded role this season is 5-10, 179 senior Lee Guess. He had three catches for 52 yards in 2005. "Lee is a solid performer," Knox says. "We kind of know what Lee brings to the table for us. He is a smart player, a good route-runner. We will use Lee in certain situations. He is well-aware of his strong points and his weaknesses. He knows his role on this team and has accepted it very well and is ready to handle it."

Lee Guess is coming off a solid spring performance as he heads into his final season.

Robert Dunn is another Tiger who has a chance to see more action in 2006. "He is coming off his freshman year and hopefully he has settled in to the system both on and off the field," Knox says of the 6-0, 177-pounder with good quickness who caught two passes for 29 yards in 2005. "That is an important thing with freshmen. Hopefully, he is more relaxed and will play more the way he played in high school and will be more productive for us."

James Swinton, a 6-0, 177 redshirt sophomore, hasn't seen prime-time action so far for the Tigers. "We are hoping James steps up." Knox says. "He has been in the program for a while and he was recruited for this time when those three seniors we had last year left and hopefully be able to step in and handle those spots. James has all of the tools. He can do it, but I think concentration is going to be the big key for him."

Montez Billings make a catch in Wednesday's practice.

After spending his first season on campus as a redshirt, 6-2, 184 Montez Billings will try to make a move for playing time. "He is an exciting young player like Robert Dunn," Knox says. "Hopefully, Montez is settled in both on and off the field and will be productive on the field for us this fall. I am excited about some of the tools he has."

A player who made the move from the secondary to wide receiver in the spring, 5-10, 191 Anthony Campbell, is still a work in progress, the coach says. "He is still learning the offense. He only had 15 days in the spring for us. He is basically like a second semester freshman for us on offense. He has shown good signs of being able to make plays and catch the ball for us in tough situations. I am looking forward to the future with Anthony. He knows that it is down the road for him. It's not this year, it's next spring."

Rodgeriqus Smith, a 6-0, 184 sophomore, saw limited playing time last year, but looked good when he got into games. Knox says he likes what he is seeing from the walk-on who made six catches for 109 yards last fall.

"Rod has gotten stronger and has a little more experience," the receivers coach says. "He has been in the system for a while. We are looking at Rod in certain situations. He kind of knows his role. We will use him in a certain role like we used Anthony Mix last year. There is a lot of upside to Rod. We are looking forward to watching him this fall and see how he progresses."

Tim Hawthorne, who is shown in Wednesday's practice, helped his team win the Class 5A state title last season.

A pair of true freshmen are also in the mix--Tim Hawthorne from Homewood High and Terrell Zachery from Wadley High. Both put up impressive numbers as high school seniors and both will be given ample opportunities to show they are ready to play. Zachery is 6-1, 197 and Hawthorne is 6-3, 207. They spent the summer on campus after playing in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game in Mobile and have shown good hands in summer workouts.

"The whole deal with them is how well mentally they will able to pick things up and then execute it," Knox says. "We are going to throw a whole lot at them in the next week and kind of pull back and see how fast they can grasp it."

Looking at the big picture, Knox says, "We can be a good group. We have got one of the best receivers in the country. The main thing is getting the other guys to step up and perform at Courtney Taylor's level. I think opportunities will come their way and I think guys will rise to the occasion and make plays.

"Courtney is a great leader and I think other guys will follow him. He is a player who wants the ball thrown in his direction when the game is on the line. He has proven time after time he can get the job done. We know that as coaches and he knows that as a player."

2006 Inside the Auburn Tigers Auburn Football Guide

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