Auburn, Ala.--Coming into preseason camp for the Auburn Tigers, the two areas with the most question marks on the offensive side of the ball were at wide receiver and on the offensive line. Now with just a few days left until the season opener against Kansas State, there are still questions for both groups left unanswered.
While they're not looking for a starter to step up, at wide receiver depth is something that is required and at the moment it's up in the air who will play after starters Rodgeriqus Smith, Prechae Rodriguez and Robert Dunn. There are plenty of options but at the moment it appears only James Swinton has secured a solid back up role.
Another player that has taken a big leap forward and is likely the back up in the slot is redshirt freshman Tim Hawthorne. Battling through an injured ankle that has kept him on the shelf for a week, Coach Greg Knox said that Hawthorne is working hard and his knowledge of the offense has helped him move forward while he's trying to get back to full speed.
The question mark is behind Rodriguez. Coming into the fall Montez Billings was the favorite to win the starting job opposite Smith on the outside for the Tigers but a pulled hamstring has shelved the speedy sophomore since early in preseason camp. Because of that it has forced Rodriguez to step up and Knox said he's done just that.
"He's shown a lot of leadership," Knox said. "He tries to lead by example and work hard at everything he does. He's trying to bring the group along, being the only senior. He is taking over the leadership role."
Prechae Rodriguez has stepped up his game for the Tigers at just the right time.
With Billings trying to get back on the field and still not 100 percent, much of the work behind Rodriguez has gone to true freshman Chris Slaughter. A very talented player, Slaughter missed all of the summer work and the first few days of camp before being declared eligible. Starting way behind his fellow receivers, Coach Tommy Tuberville said that Slaughter has done enough to earn some playing time right away.
"Slaughter is working there," Tuberville said. When asked if he would play against Kansas State all Tuberville added was a yes. Neither offensive coordinator Al Borges or Knox would commit that strongly but both said he's definitely got a chance to help the Tigers and possibly soon.
The other question mark on offense is up front where currently the starting five consists of King Dunlap, Tyronne Green, Jason Bosley, Mike Berry and Lee Ziemba. With Ziemba beating out veterans Antwoin Daniels, Andrew McCain and Oscar Gonzalez for the job and Berry earning first team honors with Leon Hart injured with a sprained ankle, the Tigers will almost assuredly go into the opener with two freshmen up front but Nall said he's prepared to do just that.
"There's no doubt in my mind that they're going to play hard and get after it," Nall said. "They're going to make mistakes. They're just young guys."
The injury to Hart isn't the latest development up front though as Dunlap rolled his ankle late last week and was held out of Sunday's practice as a precautionary measure. While he is expected back, Nall said Dunlap's injury only adds to the chemistry situation and makes it tougher for the guys to come together.
"Once again you're missing this guy or that guy," Nall said. "I'm starting to see a little bit more and the substitutions I've been making are the same substitutions I've been making. It has been Antwoin at right guard or Antwoin at left tackle. It's a little bit of chemistry but with King out it makes a difference."