Franklin Pleased With Skill Positions

Tony Franklin discusses the progress of the offensive skill positions.

Auburn, Ala.--Between the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, the Tigers have an almost countless number of offensive skill players who are expected to contribute this season. Two quarterbacks, four running backs and more than a dozen receivers are part of the mix nearly a week into preseason practice.

The receiving corps wasn't a team strength in 2007, but it could turn into an asset by the time the Tigers take the field on Aug. 30 for the season opener.

"They're much better than they were in the spring, and they'll continue to get better," offensive coordinator Tony Franklin says. "They'll get dead-legged here before long and they'll look bad because they'll be so dead-legged, but the bottom line is they're good enough to win in this league."

Players like James Swinton, Terrell Zachery and Tommy Trott had combined for 17 career receptions through the 2007 season, but all three caught the attention of the new coordinator during the spring. Franklin says he hasn't seen a drop off in their play this August.

"I'm still excited (about Swinton)," Franklin notes. "He runs good routes, he sticks, he gets straight up the field and he's really fast. He's dropped one or two, but everybody is going to drop one or two some day. I like him.

"Trott probably hasn't gotten as many balls as he did in the spring, which is good because the quarterbacks are getting more trust with the other guys," he continues. "Terrell has just continued on at the same pace."

The top three receivers from a year ago--Rod Smith, Montez Billings and Robert Dunn--are also part of the rotation and are having a solid first week.

Mario Fannin and Tim Hawthorne missed almost the entire spring with injuries, but are also coming along. The most improved player this August has been Chris Slaughter, though it hasn't been much of a surprise because of his talent and potential.

"It's all stayed pretty much the same with the exception of Slaughter," Franklin notes. "He's been dramatically better. Slaughter has a chance to be special if he practices every day like he has these first few. As he has his life in good order, that kid has a chance to be really special."

A pair of tight ends, known as the ‘Y' position, have caught Franklin's eye.

"I like the freshman Vance Smith," he says. "I wasn't sure he was going to be able to play tight end, but I believe he's going to be a good one. I like what he's done so far. Gabe (McKenzie) has probably been the biggest surprise for me of the guys coming back because he is running so much better routes, he's playing full speed, he's catching the ball much better than he did before, so he's probably been the most pleasant surprise."

Four more young receivers--redshirt freshman Quindarius Carr and true freshmen Derek Winter, Darvin Adams and Philip Pierre-Louis--are also in the running for playing time.

The top two rushers from last season return at the featured back position in Ben Tate and Brad Lester. As Tristan Davis slowly recovered from a pair of foot injuries, he entered the mix in the spring and a fourth back is part of the rotation now.

"I think (Eric Smith) is in the mix to have to play," Franklin notes. "You always hope that you don't have to (play a true freshman), but four running backs is not a lot. I think he's in the mix and he'll probably play.

"To me you can win with any one of the four," he adds. "You throw Eric into that mix and you can win with any one of the four. The best thing is to win with all four of them, and that's how I think it will go. I think that all four will get their touches."

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