AU Spring Football Preview: Wide Receivers

We continue our series of position previews of the Auburn football Tigers as they prepare for spring practice.

Auburn, Ala.--While the rebuilding offensive line will get a great deal of attention during spring practice, perhaps the biggest area of concern for the Auburn offense is at wide receiver where record-setting Courtney Taylor and the dependable Lee Guess can no longer be counted on to come up with plays.

That means coach Greg Knox will have to find another receiver to be the go-to guy out of a group that, while they have played solid football, has yet to deliver the big play. Knox says that the first order of business is to replace what Taylor and Guess brought to the team both on and off the field.

"That's the most important thing right now," Knox says. "Courtney Taylor and Lee Guess are kind of the last of the 2004 group so now it's basically like starting over, starting with a young group of inexperienced guys more than anything. That kind of concerns me with the lack of experience in this group."

In spring drills Auburn will build the receiving corps around three players who have played a lot of football for the Tigers the last two seasons despite not getting a great deal of catches. Juniors Rodgeriqus Smith and Robert Dunn as well as senior Prechae Rodriguez will go into the spring as the starting group.

Smith returns after finishing second on the team with 26 catches for 452 yards and a team-leading four touchdowns last year. He was the only wide receiver other than Taylor to have at least 50 receiving yards in a single game last season. Rodriguez caught 14 for 168 yards while Dunn added just five for 52 yards. Knox says all have shown the ability to get the job done in the past, but he's looking for more consistency from them and the entire group this spring.

"Rod Smith had a very productive year for us," Knox says. "I'm very excited about him. He brings back the most experience of the group so I'm very excited about him. We'll build on his success and try to get the others to step up. Prechae Rodriguez is a two-year player for us going into his senior year. He brings back some experience and we're looking for increased upside from him.

"Those two guys give us some experience for the group but not much. You throw Robert Dunn into the mix and you get a little bit more experienced, but there's not much game experience out of the entire group. It's basically a young group experience-wise and this spring we'll be trying to get them a lot of reps on the field."

Prechae Rodriguez is a physically gifted receiver that could have a breakout season as a senior.

The wildcard of the group for the Tigers this spring could be Rodriguez. Perhaps the most talented of the veteran group of receivers, Rodriguez is in his third year at Auburn after transferring from a junior college. Many times it takes a few years for a player to develop and get used to the speed of the game on the SEC level and the dedication required to be successful. Knox says he's hoping that the end of last season was a sign of things to come for the six-foot-four receiver.

"The success he had in the Iron Bowl against Alabama was a sign of him growing," Knox says. "He's becoming more mature and stepping up and making plays for us. That's what it's all about. When he gets his opportunity he needs to step up and make plays

"He's done a good job in the games when we look at our production. He may have dropped one ball the entire year and we dropped seven as a group, which is phenomenal. Again I'm very excited about the group we have coming back and I'm looking to build some experience this spring."

Terrell Zachery is one of the young players who will get a long look this spring at wide receiver.

In addition to those three players, Knox has a large group of talented but very inexperienced receivers ready to show what they can do in the spring. Led by sophomore Montez Billings, the group features three redshirt freshmen who showed last fall during scout team work that they have the ability to help the Tigers right away. Knox says the group must show this spring that they can deliver on a daily basis.

"We have Montez Billings, Tim Hawthorne, James Swinton, Terrell Zachery and Alex Rose," Knox says. "Those will be the guys that get the top looks this spring. I'm excited about them. It's a good young group that we've got coming up. The main thing for us is trying to replace the production of Courtney Taylor and Lee Guest. You are talking about two very productive guys for our offense.

"Tim Hawthorne is a guy who came in from high school highly recruited," he adds. "He has just finished his first semester and is a big, strong and physical guy who we're really going to focus on this spring and try to get him as many reps as we can to see if he can get the job done.

"Terrell Zachery is another one. He was another highly recruited kid who kind of reminds me of Jeris McIntyre. He has that size body and has the ability to break tackles after the catch. He could be a very exciting runner.

"Alex Rose got here kind of late so he's a little bit behind. We're still trying to get a grasp on him and his athletic ability and skills. Those three young guys, we're really going to try to take a long look at them this spring and give them as many reps as we can."

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