QBs The Focus As Tigers Prepare For Rebels

Tight end Robert Johnson talks about the play of Jason Campbell and Coach Gene Chizik talks Eli Manning in this report.

Auburn, Ala.--Tight end Robert Johnson said he knew sooner or later that Jason Campbell was going to step up and be the quarterback that everyone expected him to be when he arrived on the Auburn campus in the fall of 2000. As the junior found out last week, the time is now for the player nicknamed "The Future" by his teammates at that time to emerge as not only the quarterback of the Tigers, but the leader of the offense.

Guiding the Tigers to a 31-7 victory by passing for 105 yards and rushing for another 37 yards, Johnson said the sophomore has made a big difference in the Auburn offense since his insertion into the lineup at Florida.

"We're growing," Johnson said. "We have a quarterback in there that is going to lead us to a successful end to the season, I believe. I think Jason has that ability and the confidence level he's at right now is just high. With that level of confidence it picks us all up and motivates us. If we can stay positive and do the right things to put him in the position to be successful we're going to be successful as a team.

"His attitude is tremendous, especially on the practice field. You can see him leading, not just by talking but by example. It's exciting to see that. It's exciting for me to see any offensive player or defensive player on our team make big plays. That excites everybody."

Tight end Robert Johnson catches a pass during Tuesday's practice.

The plays Campbell makes when he runs or throws out of the pocket are obviously a highlight and big weapon for the Auburn offense, but Johnson said that is something they thrive on as a unit. Not only does that affect him in the passing game where he always has to work to remain open; it also changes the way he blocks on running plays.

"I was going down to block once last week against LSU and the play was supposed to go to the right," Johnson noted. "Something told me to stay on my block and he cut it back behind me on the left side. That let me know then that we have a versatile quarterback back there. This guy is going to be everywhere. That is something we need in this offense and he's only going to get better."

Campbell and the Auburn offense will need to be at peak performance level this Saturday when they travel to Oxford to play the Ole Miss Rebels in a key SEC Western Division showdown. With both teams already having two losses in the league, this game could go a long ways towards deciding which team reamins in contention to represent the division in Atlanta for the conference championship game. If Auburn is to keep on the road to Atlanta, Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said his unit will have to find a way to keep Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning from getting hot Saturday.

Following a crisp two-hour practice in full pads on Tuesday, Chizik said the team had a good day of concentration. Focusing on installing the game plan for the Rebels and continuing to improve the special teams, he said they have some very simple goals on the defensive side of the ball, but they are important if the Tigers hope to come away with the win.

"You always want to say you have to stop the run first, which you know you have to do," Chizik said. "But then you're sitting there with a guy as good as Manning is and you know deep down you have to stop the pass. It's kind of like the lesser of two evils. You know you have to stop the run, but then when you get to the pass that's his deal. We're really trying to convince the players that we have to get them in predictable situations. I think that's the key to it. Don't let them be able to dictate what they can do to you."

Making it tougher on Chizik and his staff this week is the continued struggle for Spencer Johnson to get healthy after spraining an ankle early in the season and then re-injuring the ankle against Arkansas three weeks ago. Needing every available body to rush the passer as well as Johnson's leadership and experience on the field, that makes it a tough chore for the Auburn defense this week.

"He's still banged up," Chizik said of Johnson. "He dressed out and tried to run around, but we're not counting on him. We'll see at game time but I think it's going to be another week or so. We're beat up at that position to begin with--the defensive line as a whole. Now you're looking at a game they could potentially throw the ball 40 or 50 times so all you're doing is rushing the passer. You're running a lot of yards every play. As beat up as we are that can really wear on you."

Other than Johnson the Tigers appear to be in decent shape with tailbacks Carnell Williams and Chris Butler the only players that are definitely out of Saturday's game. Butler is bothered by a strained groin and could miss the next two games. Wide receiver Anthony Mix appears closer to 100 percent after injuring his shoulder in the Arkansas game. He should work his way back into the rotation this week alongside starter Jeris McIntyre.

Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and can be seen on Jefferson-Pilot Sports. Ole Miss enters with a record of 5-3 overall, 2-2 in conference play while the Tigers are 5-3, 3-2 in the SEC.


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