After leading the SEC in offense in 2005, the Tigers took a large step backwards last fall. "Becoming more consistent scoring more points is something we will have to do this year," Tuberville says. "We need to do a better job than we did last fall."
Averages of 24.8 points per game and 320.9 total yards per contest are not what the head coach is looking for in 2007. Only a strong kicking game and a defense stingy at allowing points enabled the Tigers to win 11 times last season.
The following are five key questions for the offense as the Tigers head into practice as they prepare for the Sept. 1st opener vs. Kansas State.
Who is going to win the starting right tackle spot?
Junior Antwoin Daniels opened spring drills on the first team at the position where 2006 senior Jonathan Palmer was a one-year starter. Daniels lost that spot to redshirt sophomore Andrew McCain in the spring. McCain, a relative novice at the position, redshirted last year while converting to the offensive line after previously playing tight end, defensive end and defensive tackle.
Nall says the competition is wide open at the position and notes Mike Berry, a versatile 6-3, 313-pound redshirt freshman, is a possibility at the position. Berry can also play center and guard. "He did some good things for us in the spring," Nall notes.
With Auburn starting a left-handed quarterback, whoever wins this right tackle assignment will be protecting the QB's blindside.
Will Brandon Cox bounce back as a redshirt senior with an all-star type of season?
There is no doubt that leg injuries limited Cox's mobility last fall and contributed to lower than expected passing stats. Healthy again in spring training, the lefty threw the ball even better than he did during the 2005 season when he put up impressive numbers.
Brandon Cox is shown in a summer passing workout.
The quarterback knows offensive coordinator Al Borges' system very well with three years of training and Cox has proven to be calm in pressure situations. Keeping him healthy enough to make decisions throughout a demanding 12-game regular season schedule will be a very high priority for the entire offense.
Will the Tigers have a playmaker or playmakers step up at the wide receiver spots?]
Last year the offense was handicapped by injuries to three of its top players--Cox, tailback Kenny Irons and wide receiver Courtney Taylor. Taylor battled his way through a senior season and will be missed this year, leaving as AU's all-time leader in total receptions.
Rodgeriqus Smith stepped up last fall and in spring drills and looks like he will have a chance to be a go-to guy, however, Tuberville notes the Tigers need multiple wideouts who have that capability.
After seeing the wideout group improve in spring drills, the Tigers have possibilities in this area with players like senior Prechae Rodriguez, junior Robert Dunn, sophomore Montez Billings and redshirt freshmen Terrell Zachery and Tim Hawthorne. There are several other possibilities like speedy James Swinton.
Montez Billings, who is up to 6-2, 191 pounds, makes a catch in a summer workout.
If two or three receivers prove they can consistently make big plays, opposing defenses will be taking a major risk by committing large numbers of defenders to stuff AU's running attack.
If Cox is injured, who will be calling the signals for the Tigers?
The answer to that question is a major mystery as the Tigers prepare to put on the pads again. All of the backups had their good moments and not so good moments in the spring. In this group only junior Blake Field, who was limited in spring drills with tendonitis in his throwing shoulder, has played in a college game.
Redshirt freshmen Neil Caudle and Steven Ensminger will be given their shots to show what they can do the first couple of weeks in the August practices, Borges notes. The same thing is true of true freshman Kodi Burns, who has been on campus all summer working out.
Borges says that the best option will probably be to redshirt Burns, but notes if the newcomer shows he is ready to be a difference-maker for the AU offense that he could play this fall. Borges, who doubles as quarterback coach, notes the battle for the No. 2 spot is wide open.
With four offensive line starters to be replaced, how soon can the new group mesh into a finely-tuned unit that works well together?
Nall says he saw across the board improvement with this group in spring drills, but notes the Tigers have to improve considerably to handle a demanding schedule that starts with challenging non-league games vs. Kansas State and South Florida.
The potential is there for the Tigers to start a group that has been in the program for a significant amount of time with senior King Dunlap at left tackle, senior Leon Hart at right guard, redshirt junior Tyrone Green at left guard, grayshirt junior Jason Bosley at center and redshirt junior Daniels at right tackle.