After Coach Al Borges and the post-spring depth chart both said Blake Field was still holding onto the position, on Wednesday at SEC Media Days Coach Tommy Tuberville had a different take on the race to back up Brandon Cox.
"Neil Caudle came out of two-a-days as the back up," Tuberville says from SEC Media Days on Wednesday. "He'll go into two-a-days as the guy probably, unless Al (Borges) changes his mind because he studies those guys quite a bit during the off season. It's real close but I would imagine he would go in as our number two but it's going to be a battle going down to the wire all the way to the Kansas State game."
Bothered by a sore shoulder for the entire spring, an injury that hampered him late in the 2006 season, the junior Field was still listed as the back up following spring practice although he got very little time under center. Tuberville says he's not counting out Field and believes it's still very much a wide open battle for the job.
"He could be our number two guy," Tuberville says. "Again, these guys have caught up with him. Mentally, Blake had some good practices in the spring but he also had some he didn't have as good. When you're looking for a guy to be the heir apparent and is one snap away, you're looking for a guy that doesn't make as many mistakes. The reason Neil moved up is because he didn't have as many mistakes and had a more productive spring practice when all was said and done.
"He (Blake) was beat up a little bit but again, that is what spring practice is all about," he adds. "You've got to be able to work through it. All that could change even the first day of two-a-days. We're going to put pressure on all of those young guys and challenge them. We'll have several scrimmages where we're probably going to need to look at our back ups with the first team group so we can get a little bit better idea of who is actually doing something."
Tuberville talks to a crowded room at SEC Media Days.
The number two quarterback is usually something that is a concern but not a huge one for a team. That's not the case with Auburn though after Cox suffered through a painful 2006 season that saw him only play a handful of games at even close to full speed. Tuberville says Cox needs to do a better job of handling his position as a senior because his being on the field will be a key for the Tigers in 07.
"I think Brandon has to be a little bit smarter going into the season," Tuberville says. "The year before he got rid of the ball a lot quicker at times. He started getting a little more confidence in what he was doing and holding it but when you hold the ball in our league you might get it off and complete it but you also get hit pretty good. He's got to understand that we're going to be better off sometimes if he throws the ball away and gets rid of it. We'll approach it like that this season. We want him to be healthy in every game. If he can be healthy he's going to give us a lot better chance to win."
One positive Cox and the offense will have going for it this season is the emergence of Rodgeriqus Smith as the go-to guy in the passing game. A former walk-on that has quickly stepped to the forefront in Auburn's system, Smith is becoming not only a fan favorite but a favorite of Tuberville as well.
"Rod Smith is really becoming a heck of a player," Tuberville says. "I think he's got a chance to be a standout player, not only for this football team but for this league. It just goes to show you how kids mature and change. He comes in a skinny kid a few years ago as a walk on and nobody even knows his name. He's become one of the better receivers we've had around the last few years and his consistency wears off on the other players."
More Tuberville Notes:
While much of the talk on Wednesday centered around guys that aren't academically cleared yet to join the Tigers, Tuberville had some interesting thoughts on several true freshmen that could help Auburn immediately this season. He says the first guy on his list to watch is safety Michael McNeil from Mobile.
"Michael McNeil will definitely be a player for us as long as he stays healthy going into two-a-days," Tuberville says. "He'll be second team the first day we start out. He's going to help our football team with his height and his ability to cover the field. I think the sky is the limit for him."
With projected starting linebacker Patrick Trahan academically ineligible for the 2007 season, there is immediate playing time available for a player that has the physical and mental capabilities to handle himself in the SEC. Tuberville says he thinks he knows just the player to work on the strong side.
"With Trahan not making it academically, I think Josh Bynes will be a guy we're going to put into the linebacker mix and give him a chance to play some this year. It's really up to him. He's really grown just in the two months he's been with us. I have been hearing good things from our strength coaches on how fast and quick he is. I think he's going to help us in what we're doing.
"There will be a couple of other guys we're going to look at," Tuberville adds about the incoming group. "Kodi Burns will be one. Bo Harris, we've moved him to linebacker and will look at him. We're going to be smart with Kodi. We're not going to use him as a two or three play guy unless we really think he can win games for us. Brandon's health is going to determine a lot of that."