2008 Football Preview: Inside Receivers

In our continuing look at the 2008 Auburn Tigers we take a look at the inside receiver positions coached by Steve Ensminger.

Auburn, Ala.--One of the biggest changes in Auburn's offensive attack in 2008 will be the use of the wide receivers and tight ends, particularly from inside receiver positions. Because of that Tony Franklin split up the coaching duties to give Steve Ensminger more responsibility and to lessen the load on Greg Knox by giving him just the outside guys to coach.

The results in the spring were positive from both sides as players such as Tommy Trott, Robert Dunn and Terrell Zachery all made huge strides in Franklin's offense. Ensminger says the move was one suggested by Franklin and in his mind it has worked out well as they prepare for a full season in the offense.

"It's four wide receivers now," Ensminger says. "In the past we were always using a tight end and very little four wideouts. Greg handled all of that. Tony walked in here and put in his package and he felt like paying attention to detail at each position he wanted one coach for two positions.

"He felt like we would get more reps that way and get things corrected better that way. He gave me the Y (tight end) position and the inside receiver position. There are more eyes on them, they are getting more reps, and there is more correction going on. Hopefully, it will make us better."

Tommy Trott may be the biggest beneficiary of the new offense.

Perhaps no player is happier for the change in offense than Trott. One of the top tight end prospects in the country coming out of high school, the Montgomery native has struggled in his two seasons at Auburn with just 14 career catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Last season his numbers were a paltry four receptions for 35 yards, something that is likely to be topped in the season opener if the spring is any indication.

More help on the inside could come from Tim Hawthorne, a player that gives the Tigers a speedier option as a match up.

"Obviously watching the bowl game, our tight end position can now be attached to the formation like it has been in the past or we can stand them up and move them outside," Ensminger says. "Tommy Trott right now is our starting tight end backed up by Gabe. We always want to have a smaller tight end as a receiver, which is Tim Hawthorne, who has a big body. He's a bigger body that is more athletic and a little more fluid running down the field and can stretch the field on third downs.

"Right now it lines up with those three at that position with our other tight ends vying for that fourth spot. We'll still use a two tight end set. We ran almost 30 plays out of that formation in the bowl game. We're not going to get away from that. We'll take our other tight ends in Brent Slusher and Bailey Woods and Vance Smith and hopefully they can fill a void for us as back ups."

Tim Hawthorne has been bothered by injuries the last two springs, but has a chance to earn significant playing time this fall.

At the inside receiver position Dunn is a player who Franklin and Ensminger both say has a chance to finish out his Auburn career with a bang. In three years Dunn has 26 catches for 292 yards and two touchdowns, but is coming off his best year in 2007 when he had 19 receptions for 211 yards. Ensminger says Dunn is someone he is ready to see explode this fall.

"The inside position starts with Robert Dunn," Ensminger says. "We felt like he had an outstanding bowl game and an outstanding spring. You could tell when he was there during scrimmages he made things happen. He's a dynamic player. We think we have to get him the football. We'll get some screens to him. He can stretch the field vertically. He catches the ball very well. We're excited about him."

The all-time receiving yardage leader in Alabama high school history, Terrell Zachery sat out the entire regular season with academic issues in 2007 before being reinstated for the bowl game against Clemson. While he didn't have a catch, the game gave him a chance to get some experience heading into the 2008 season. Ensminger says that and his work in the spring have him poised to become a big part of the offense.

"Terrell Zachery in my opinion, from an inside receiver position and maybe on the whole offense, was the most improved player I've seen," Ensminger says. "He had a great spring and has had a great summer. His attitude and his work ethic have improved not only on the field, but in the weight room and in the classroom. I'm very proud of him.

"He has to play well for us and I believe he will. Hopefully, we'll run 70 or 80 plays and he needs to get 30 of them or better. Behind them we have John Cubelic who went through the spring with us. He's very capable and understands this offense. Freshman Darvin Adams will round out that H position."

Terrell Zachery is a physical player who is very good after the catch.

A player who moved inside to slot receiver for the bowl game but will get his first look outside this fall is ultra-talented Mario Fannin. Ensminger says while Fannin will be outside, it doesn't mean he won't line up inside some as well. He notes every receiver is going to be have to be versatile enough to move when necessary.

"What we're doing right now we have the terminology to move our inside receivers outside and our outside receivers inside," Ensminger says. "We're trying to create mismatches. Going into two-a-days they're going to have to know every position basically."

Facing a challenging schedule in a new offense, Ensminger says he has several things in mind for his guys as they prepare for Louisiana-Monroe on Aug. 30. While learning the offense is always a must, he adds in this offense it takes perfection on every level to make it work right and that's what he wants out of his players.

"Number one is stay healthy," Ensminger says. "Number two, I believe coming out of spring our three-deep basically understands the offense. We've put some wrinkles in they're going to have to understand, but it's my belief and Tony's belief in understanding this offense that it's not how much you do but it's doing it perfect and paying attention to details. We need to do every little thing right. Is it a two-deep coverage, is it a man coverage, is it a blitz, is it a hot read, things like that.

"We've kind of broken down practices like that," he adds. "We're going to put very few routes in on one day. We'll probably put three or four concepts in and see how many reps we can get from it. The next day we'll add another concept. It's just a matter of mastering the technique of each route and each concept. Hopefully, through the reps we'll get that done."

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