QB Battle Heats Up For Tigers

Jason Campbell or Daniel Cobb? The race is still on for the starting quarterback job at Auburn.

Auburn, Ala.--In the final tuneup for the first scrimmage of preseason, the quarterbacks were hot and cold, the first team offensive line made some progress and the number one defense continued to impress at Tuesday evening's practice.

Coach Tommy Tuberville has called off his Wednesday morning practice so he can have a more rested team for a 50 to 60-play scrimmage scheduled for Wednesday at the intramural fields. Instead, the Tigers will watch video in the morning then work out an hour and forty-five minutes starting at 5 p.m. before scrimmaging. A longer scrimmage is scheduled for Saturday morning.

Offensively, the highlights of the day were some good runs by tailbacks Carnell Williams and Tre Smith during inside drills. The lowlights were inconsistent play by both Jason Campbell, who spent most of his time with the first team, and Daniel Cobb, who got the bulk of his work on the second unit. "We are making some plays on offense, but then we will make a mistake and you can't do that," Tuberville said. "We have got to eliminate that before we start playing games."

Defensively, coordinator Gene Chizik's group generally outplayed the offense at the 2 1/2-hour session. Highlights included interceptions by cornerback Roderick Hood and free safety Travaris Robinson against the first team offense on passes thrown by Campbell during the two-minute drill.

Cobb, who has generally been outplayed by Campbell throughout preseason, led the second offense the length of the field the first time this fall the Tigers practiced their hurry-up attack. The senior set up the touchdown by scrambling seven yards on a rollout to the three. He then threw a high lob pass into the corner of the end zone to freshman wideout Ben Obomanu, who was also a basketball star at Selma High School. Cornerback Rashaud Walker had good position but not enough hops to get up in the air with the freshman, who made a finger-tip catch for a score and then spiked the ball for effect.

Cobb hit nice passes to freshman receiver Courtney Taylor, freshman tailback Smith and freshman receiver Montae Pitts (a fourth down conversion) in addition to Obomanu on the scoring drive. The second offense couldn't score on its second try so the defense stopped the offense three of four times during the two-minute drill. Tuberville scored the session defense three, offense one.

"We are still not picking up the blitz," Tuberville said of the offense. "We are making too many mental mistakes. The quarterbacks are holding the ball too long. Those things will come."

Tuberville noted the pace of the practice was good and his players are working hard, but added that the team "has a long way to go" as the Tigers approach the halfway point of preseason drills as they prepare for the Sept. 2 opener at Southern Cal.

"I thought Daniel probably did better today," Tuberville said. "Jason threw two interceptions in the two-minute drill and you can't make mistakes like that. That is the one thing we are trying to eliminate--the turnovers by the quarterback. It is still going to be up in the air (on who the No. 1 QB is)."

Tuberville said the coaching staff will have their starter named by "early next week" when the Tigers begin their regular one practice a day routine next Tuesday after taking Monday off for the first day of fall classes. "We will find out a lot more about them in the next two scrimmages," he says. "We are debating doing this scrimmage, and the one Saturday, putting the quarterbacks in a live situation (not off limits for full contact hits)."

Tuberville had praise for freshman tailback Smith, who has been one of the more impressive newcomers on the team. "Tre is a player who can help us this season," said Tuberville.

Smith said that he arrived on campus with the idea that he would play immediately so he is not surprised that he is pushing for second team status at tailback. "I'm trying not to set too many expectations, but I am going to set my goals high. I want to get playing time in every game. Even if it is in on special teams or just putting in a block for a player or something. I just want to get in and play and show them what I can do."

One possibility for a role is on special teams where he is working as both a punt returner and a deep back as a kickoff returner. He has shown steady hands and shifty moves to go with good speed that helped him become one of the South's top running back recruits as a senior at Venice, Fla., High. "I returned punts all four years in high school so I have had a lot of experience at high school, but at the college level it is completely different with the punters punting the ball farther and the faster defenses."

Tre Smith has shown good quickness.

Smith also returned kickoffs for Venice High where he made a name for himself as a run as he averaged 9.9 yards per carry as a senior tailback. "If they let me do that, I am looking forward to returning kickoffs," Smith said.

The 5-10, 190-pounder has shown good inside power and nice moves on the corner. He has not backed down from any challenges although he admits to being surprised at how many good athletes there are on his college team and the overall quickness. "The speed of the game is really faster," Smith noted.

Smith added that backs coach Eddie Gran has been emphasizing running pass routes and blocking assignments in preseason for the freshmen and the other backs as well. "I am getting all of that down pretty good."

Commenting on Smith, Tuberville said, "He will play a lot. We are going to keep working with him. He has great hands and can run the ball inside and outside. He is a quick learner. He just needs to make sure he keeps picking up thing."

Another freshman who won praise from Tuberville on Tuesday is Obomanu. "He seems like he has a little bit more confidence in himself than some of the freshmen," said Tuberville. "Once we get into a game plan and they know the exact plays we are running--right now we are running a hodge-podge of our whole offense and they are having to pick it all up--they will do better once we focus in on what we are going to do against USC. They will have time to rep it so it will be a lot better. Right now their heads are spinning."

On the interception by Hood in the two-minute drills, freshman Devin Aromashodu was scolded by offensive coordinator Bob Petrino and receivers coach Greg Knox for not running his pass route properly.

Tuberville said that he saw signs that the first team offensive line that featured Ben Nowland at center, Ryan Hockett and Danny Lindsey at guard and Ryan Broome and Mark Pera at tackle is continuing to make progress. Monreko Crittenden has been splitting time at guard with Hockett, who is a senior walk-on from Jacksonville, Fla. Hockett has shown a lot of toughness and steady play. When Crittenden was sidelined with too much weight loss in one practice last week, Hockett took advantage of the time with the first team and has hung tough at the spot since then.

True freshmen Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick worked with the second unit on Tuesday and are pushing for playing time. McNeill is at the tight tackle spot where Taylor Bourgeois was expected to challenge Broome for the No. 1 spot. Bourgeois missed the action on Tuesday while recovering after re-injuring an old high school shoulder problem that was not related to the injury he had surgery on after the 2001 season.

"We are going to get better on the offensive line," says Tuberville, who watched linebackers Dontarrious Thomas, Lemarcus Rowell, Mayo Sowell, Travis Williams, Karlos Dansby, Tyrone Martin, Antarrious Williams and Mark Brown have strong performances in a variety of drills as well as the 11 on 11 work. The group gave the running backs fits trying to block them in blitz protection drills.

Tuberville said the preliminary report on defensive end Kyle Derozan is that he has a torn meniscus and will be out of action for about 10 days. He was injured on Monday. Doctors at HealthSouth will evaluate Derozan on Wednesday, the coach said. "After the MRI, it looks like the same thing as Justin Fetsko so they will probably scope it," Tuberville said. Fetsko, a wide receiver who also holds for kicks, was injured in practice last week.

Senior split end Marcel Willis left practice early with an ankle problem. His junior season was ruined by an ankle injury that kept recurring throughout the fall.

Tight end Justin Bruce was at practice on Tuesday. The 2002 signee came in earlier this summer and participated in voluntary workouts, but a medical exam found that he had a disk problem in his neck that requires rehab. He returned home to Georgia before coming back to school where he will start classes on Monday. "We are going to rehab him and if the doctors clear him to play, we will let him play," Tuberville said. "He wouldn't have played this year anyway. We just will have to wait and see what happens with the rehab."

Tiger Ticket Extra: Walk-on Rich Trucks, who is running second team at guard, got into a brief fight with freshman defensive lineman Antwarn Franklin. Former Tiger star Doug Smith stepped between the two and the nearly 400-pound former NFL player picked up the 300-plus Trucks with ease and then dropped him on the ground as he casually pushed the 300-pound plus Franklin in the other direction to separate the combatants.


Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories