With a new offensive coordinator in place since spring practice in ex-Jacksonville Jaguars play caller Bobby Petrino, head coach Tommy Tuberville says that he believes the Auburn coaches will have their guy selected early in the process. That would allow them to move forward with the business of getting ready for a tough opening to the football season when they have four games in a span of just 18 days starting with a tough opener at Southern Cal.
"We would like to do it in seven to 10 days," Tuberville notes. "He and I have been talking about that for the last two weeks." Because of the lack of recovery time early in the season and the amount of learning involved to get a head start on game planning, Tuberville also noted that the Tigers won't have as much physical contact work in two-a-days as they did last year.
"We're going to scrimmage, but they are probably going to be controlled," he said. "Probably what the offense will do scrimmage-wise, I don't think we'll have a one-on-one scrimmage like we did last year when we lost three guys in that scrimmage. Marcel Willis never regained his health the rest of the year. I think we'll be able to pick a quarterback out of team drills as much as we go against each other in thud practice where everything is live except for tackling and hitting the quarterback. I would say a lot of it is going to have to do with confidence of the players towards the quarterbacks. That's one thing we were missing last year."
That has gone a long way towards sorting itself out this summer as the quarterbacks, receivers, running backs and tight ends have spent countless hours on the practice fields working on the offense on their own time. Because coaches aren't allowed to participate until next week, the players have been forced to coach themselves and much of that has fallen to the duo of Daniel Cobb and Jason Campbell. Just how much confidence and respect have the pair earned this summer won't be known for certain until the first game is played in Los Angeles, but two-a-days will go a long way to showing which has the upper hand in that department.
Another thing that has taken place this summer is almost complete participation in summer workouts by the incoming freshman class. Normally you expect a select few newcomers to compete for playing time, particularly on a team that returns a solid group of lettermen from the previous year. However, Tuberville says that this year the Tigers are going to play a large number of the freshmen because of the talent they bring to the field.
"We were talking the other day and depth has been our problem a little bit and we are going to play some freshmen to build our depth a little more," he notes. "I would say out of these 25 we have 15 guys penciled in for special teams, meaning if they are going to play special teams they're going to play a position, too. We have too much speed and too much athletic ability in this group to say we're going to put these guys on the scout team. I think we would be holding ourselves back a little bit."
While he did mention the obvious spots where freshmen will help, wide receiver and defensive end, Tuberville also said that the young guys on the offensive line (four signees) will have difficulty making a mark as freshmen. That is because the techniques required and the scheme they have to learn in order to mesh with their teammates up front is difficult to pick up in a short period of time.
Two players Tuberville singled out as having a good chance for playing time are defensive tackles Tommy Jackson and Antwarn Franklin. Jackson will likely be a backup to Demarco McNeil at the noseguard position while Franklin, who is down to 300 pounds, will be behind Spencer Johnson at tackle.
This offseason hasn't been without attrition, though, as several players will be missing when two-a-days start next week. The group includes senior free safety Stanford Simmons and redshirt freshman defensive end Steven Bouldin. Tuberville said on Wednesday that Simmons will be on scholarship this season and will count against the 85 total players the Tigers can have. But he won't be a part of the football team. Personal problems and the need to take care of academic business have forced the Ashland native to give up his final season of eligibility. Simmons dropped to third team on the depth chart in spring training behind Travaris Robinson and Donnay Young and was in danger of dropping behind redshirt freshman Jared Nelson and was not expected to play this season after struggling last year.
"Stanford and I have come to the conclusion that he needs to work on his academics," Tuberville notes. "He also has a few personal problems that he needs to overcome before he would continue to play football. Obviously, since this is his last year he will concentrate on those."
Bouldin is also giving up football, at least for this year. The Crossville native was going to be counted on as a reserve at the defensive end position where the Tigers lost three key performers last year in Javor Mills, Alton Moore and James Callier. Personal and family problems have sidetracked his promising football career. Tuberville says that Bouldin is back at home and is unsure if he'll return to the program. The Auburn coach has encouraged Bouldin to take some college classes this fall and not give up on earning a college degree even if he does not return to football.
Another potential player will not be a part of the 2002 team. Signee Troy Bergeron, a defensive back from Shaw High in Columbus, Ga., has decided to look elsewhere for playing time. The coach did not give a reason for Bergeron's decision, however, Bergeron Auburn's demanding year-around conditioning program is believed to be the reason he had second thoughts about reporting to AU for practice. Tuberville says that even without him the Tigers will have a full 25 players report on Sunday for freshman orientation into the football program even without signees Timmy Duckworth or Kevin Sears. Neither have made the necessary college entrance exam scores to be eligible this season. Neither have made arrangements for the coming year and could go the prep school, junior college or stay-at-home and retake the test like Antwarn Franklin did last year.
"We've had one of our signees decide that he is not going to come to Auburn," says Tuberville of Bergeron. "He decided that he's going to do other things so he will not be attending Auburn this fall. I think he will go somewhere and play. That was his decision...I think probably when you look at the position we're in at the positions he was going to play he felt like maybe he had the opportunity to play somewhere else earlier."
Tuberville and the Tigers will get practice started on Monday with two freshman workouts scheduled at 8 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. The first full-squad practice is on Thursday with workouts at 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The team has 29 practice dates scheduled before the season opener against USC in Los Angeles on Sept. 2.
Tuberville, who spoke on Wednesday at the annual SEC Media Days in Hoover, had high praise for tailback Carnell Williams and says the sophomore will be the focus of the 2002 offense.