Much of the talk surrounding Auburn football this preseason has been about the areas of concern--special teams, the offensive line and the backup quarterbacks.
Meanwhile, Coch Steve Ensminger's tight ends have gone along their way quietly playing solid football, just as expected with senior Cole Bennett and sophomores Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie. Now that the Tigers have had a pair of scrimmages and nearly three weeks of preseason workouts under their belts, the tight ends are figuring out their role in the offense.
"We played well overall," Ensminger says of the second major scrimmage. "I thought our technique wasn't as good as it has been in the past, but assignment-wise and effort it was really good. The first three tight ends graded over 90 as far as production and assignments, things like that.
"We have run a bunch of two tight end sets," the coach continues. "We've experimented some with the three tight end set and it's worked pretty well for us. I think our tight ends we have right here are athletic enough to be lead blockers, to be on the ball, to be off the ball, to play some fullback position.
"We have plans to have more than one tight end in the game. The other night we had 117 plays and each tight end got 50. That's a bunch of plays for tight ends."
Bennett will likely be the starter because of his experience and blocking ability, and Trott and McKenzie are patching up their weaker points and becoming better all-around players. They were forced into handling the load for the final 10 games last season as redshirt freshmen and are entering their third year in the system. Trott is better known for his receiving abilities while McKenzie is an athletic blocker.
"Last year they got thrown into the fire and probably played more plays than they probably should have when Cole went down," Ensminger explains. "It really made them grow up a lot. I really think looking back on it, Tommy's best blocking game was against Nebraska in the bowl game so he got better through the course of the year.
"Same thing with Gabe," he adds. "When he first got here he struggled a little bit catching the football, but he did not drop a pass last year in a ball game. They've worked on it, they've improved on it and I think they both have worked their way into a total tight end right now as far as running routes, catching the football and being able to block big guys."
Trott has been a receiving threat from the tight end position so far this preseason.
Also in the mix but likely headed for a redshirt year is Bailey Woods, who much like McKenzie, was a solid blocker coming out of high school. Woods played at Walton High in Marietta, Ga., where he earned his college scholarships offers as a blocker, but is making strides in the pass-catching department.
"Technique-wise as far as blocking he's a pretty good player," Ensminger notes. "He can stretch the field and run routes pretty good.
"He's a freshman and he's a very smart kid," Ensminger adds. "He's a little light in the tail right now and he gets thrown around a little bit, but the biggest key for a freshman coming in is that he's not scared to put his nose in there. By spring next year he'll have about 10 more pounds on there and he'll be tougher and everything else. He'll get more reps. He actually got in about 35 to 40 plays in the scrimmage. The more reps he gets the better he'll get."