One of the biggest areas of concern for the Auburn offense is at quarterback where, despite the return of two-year starter and fifth-year senior Brandon Cox, the Tigers must improve their play from last season. After a stellar sophomore season in 2005 when he was one of the top signal callers in the SEC, Cox stumbled last season due to a variety of injury problems and a lack of playmakers to help on offense.
Starting all 13 games last season, Cox threw for 2,198 yards and a respectable 14 touchdowns, but also threw nine interceptions. His 60.1 percent completion percentage was also a respectable number, but for a quarterback who relies on his accuracy to be one of his main weapons it wasn't good enough. Borges says that Cox has several areas he needs to improve on during spring practice to get ready for the 2007 season.
"We're just looking to get back to some fundamental things," Borges says. "I think we could have been a little better fundamentally. I think some of that was contributed to his health, but by the same token we can't let that keep us from being as good as we can be. That's the big thing. Then we need to try to continue to get a little bit better all the time with our passing accuracy, our pocket presence, all those things. Fundamentals will be at the top of the list."
While Cox didn't have the kind of year that was expected of him, he's still a quarterback with tons of experience to draw from as a starter in the SEC. Borges says that is something that can't be overlooked, particularly going into the spring with so many young players at key positions looking to win starting jobs.
"It helps because you kind of hit the ground running in terms of the system," Borges says. "He knows what you want to do and that makes it easier because you have to coach less little things than you would have to with a brand new quarterback. That's good. Plus, it gives you an established leader at the position and a good example for some of the younger players."
Blake Field is an athletic quarterback with a strong arm.
Behind Cox there will be a battle for the number two quarterback position with two-year letterman Blake Field the incumbent and redshirt freshmen Steven Ensminger and Neil Caudle challenging for the position. While he doesn't have a great deal of experience, Field does have some time under his belt after playing sparingly his first two years with one start in 2005 vs. Western Kentucky. Borges says that Field is the leader going into spring for the spot, but he expects a fierce battle before he's ready to proclaim Field the victor.
"Blake is our number two, but the number two quarterback is always an open position," Borges says. "There is never a set number two quarterback. Whoever wins it at the end of the spring is the number two quarterback, but right now that's how we're going in. Blake is number two and then Steven and Neil are pretty much slashed at number three--they have been from the beginning and they still are. We're going to look for opportunities to see what they can do. The number two quarterback is wide open and we've got three good candidates for it."
Neil Caudle is perhaps the best athlete among the four quarterbacks and can make things happen running or throwing.
Both Ensminger and Caudle enter the fray this spring after working with the scout team offense in some capacity during the fall. While Ensminger was bothered by some back problems that kept him out of several practices, Caudle got a chance to not only get some reps with the regular offense but traveled to away games as the third quarterback on most occasions.
Borges says his experience last fall gives Caudle a tiny leg up in the chase, but both players possess strengths that could help them challenge Field this spring.
"I thought Neil did a really nice job in a limited capacity of learning our offense," Borges says. "Steven fought some health problems all through the fall. He had a series of problems, but has a strong arm and a quick release. I think when he gets in to the mix a little bit, when he can practice every single day and feels good, you'll see a lot of progress out of him, too. I think both players can play here and both players are pretty solid. Both are good throwers and Neil probably brings a little more athleticism to the position where Steven probably has a little stronger arm."
Steven Ensminger is a big, physical quarterback with a quick release.
In addition to the quarterback race there will be several areas of concern for Borges and the offense during spring practice. Two of the most watched battles will be up front on the offensive line and at wide receiver. Losing key seniors at both spots will be tough to overcome, but Borges says that's the focus of the offense this spring and he's looking for someone to step up and make the plays that show they can get the job done.
"The biggest goal on offense is that we've got to establish who is going to play on our offensive line," Borges says. "That's number one, who are the five guys going to be? Number two is seeing who is going to step up at wide receiver. Who are going to be our go-to guys? Those are our two main objectives.
"The offensive line is such a critical position as is wide receiver because we're looking to be a little better with regard to big-play dimension," Borges says. "We didn't have enough of that a year ago."