Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's Tommy Tuberville has been through this before. Several times since he arrived at Auburn players have had press conferences to either declare for the NFL Draft or to come back for their senior seasons. Monday's announcement that standout defender Quentin Groves is coming back next season are the kind that make a head coach smile.
"We're excited that Quentin has decided to return for his final year of eligibility," Tuberville says. "He has got his degree. He'll work on his Masters. I think it's important in our program and any program to get your guys to want to come back for their final year of eligibility. It gives your program a boost. Obviously it keeps your experience intact. It's really going to help with our leadership. Quentin is a very good leader. He plays with intensity. Players listen to him. He brings the level of your defense up a notch and encourages players to bring it up to that same level."
Listed as a defensive end because of Auburn's base 4-3 alignment, Groves played a great deal of outside linebacker in 2006 in Will Muschamp's first year as defensive coordinator for the Tigers. That will continue next season as the Tigers become more familiar with the scheme and ideas behind Muschamp's system. Tuberville says that Groves' abilities at linebacker make him the perfect candidate for the "Monster Backer" that everyone in the NFL is looking for.
"He'll obviously come in next year as one of the top players in the SEC and maybe the country on defense," Tuberville says. "He'll be one of the frontrunners for the Butkus Award. I have coached some good linebackers for the 17 years I coached linebackers and he's as good as I've been around. He's got speed, he's got quickness, he's got height and he's got good athletic ability. The thing about what happened to him this year is that he played another position. Another year in this defense will really help him to learn to rush the passer one play and blitz one play and drop back and cover a receiver the next play. He's a very versatile guy. He'll be a high commodity next year in the draft. He's the type of guy they are looking for."
Groves is second in Auburn history with 23 career quarterback sacks.
Despite concerns over his family situation and his future, Groves says that he wants what is best in the long run for himself and his family. In the end that meant coming back for his senior year. Tuberville says he had the same things in mind when he told Groves that he needed another year.
"If he would have been a first rounder we would have talked in a different tone," Tuberville says. "Where they were talking in the fourth round and maybe a little bit higher, I don't think he would have gotten what he really deserved going into the NFL. Coming back will really enhance what he's going to do. He's got a year to work on getting better and improving. I think he's going to be one of the dominating players in college football next year."
Groves returns to form what could be one of Auburn's best defenses in many years in 2007. Losing Marquies Gunn and Christopher Browder up front, linebackers Will Herring, Karibi Dede and Kevin Sears and cornerback David Irons, Auburn has to replace a lot of experience and talent but defensive line coach Don Dunn says have Groves back is a big piece of a puzzle that he hopes comes together on the field next season.
"It's a great day for Auburn," Dunn says. "Like Coach said if it would have been in his best interest to come out and he would have been a first rounder we would have given him our blessings but he's a smart young man. He's intelligent and sat down and talked with his family. He talked with Will (Muschamp) and Terry (Price) and he felt like it was best for him to come back.
"It means a great deal to our football program, to the young guys and what we want to get done reaching our goals. It's the second year in coach Muschamp's defense and that's going to be helpful for everybody. We need his leadership. He leads by example and is a big play guy. It's a good day for us all around. It's almost like getting a big commitment again. We're excited about him and I think you're going to see a real big change physically and mentally for him going into his senior year."