"The three areas that we can look at that we're really going to need somebody to come in is tight end, cornerback and defensive end," Tuberville noted. "Those are three areas that we were hit by graduation. We need more depth and guys that can come in and play. There is not a player on there (signee list) that doesn't have a chance to come in and play because of the athletic ability he's got. All of them have a lot to learn."
One place the learning process isn't quite as important is at cornerback. With seniors Roderick Hood, Rashaud Walker and Horace Willis all gone after using up their eligibility in 2002, the Tigers went about replenishing the talent at the position. High school seniors Patrick Lee and Eric Brock were both added to the defense when they signed on Wednesday, but it was an old name that had Tuberville excited when talking about his new class of Auburn Tigers.
"He went to a junior college and he's had a real good career at junior college," Tuberville said of former and current Auburn signee David Irons. "He's had a real good career. He went to Butler County. He's very athletic and as much man coverage as we play on the corner, because of his experience it will give him a chance to play early."
A highly recruited tailback out of Dacula (Ga.) High two seasons ago, Irons failed to qualify and went to Kansas to try his hand at defensive back. After injuring a knee and redshirting his first season, Irons returned with a vengeance as a redshirt freshman. Finishing the year with 45 tackles, two interceptions and 11 pass break ups, the 6-1, 187 Irons should provide immediate help at the position when he arrives in Auburn over the summer.
Another position on defense that needed immediate help was the defensive end spot. Playing linebacker Mayo Sowell and tackle Dexter Murphy at end just to survive the season, the coaching staff made no bones about shoring up the depth problems in this year's class. They did that and more with the addition of six players capable of earning playing time next fall. While junior college signees Doug Langenfeld and Tony McClain as well as high school players Lloyd Blevins and Marquies Gunn are all athletic and talented players, Tuberville said the addition of Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves have the coaching staff particularly excited.
Quentin Groves is a blue chip pickup for the Auburn defense as a pass rushing end.
"It's very difficult to recruit defensive linemen because they are so few and far between especially with the skills that these two have on the outside," Tuberville said. "We have other guys that we recruited, but these two guys give us a lot of speed on the outside and because of that they will have a chance to play next year."
A USA Today All-USA second-team selection from Weston High in Greenville, Miss., the 6-4, 235 Groves has the ability to create havoc from the outside of the defense. He finished his senior season with 22 sacks and 86 tackles and also played tight end and caught three passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Not to be outdone, the 6-4, 236 McClover finished with 102 tackles (91 solo) and tied for the Broward County lead with 22 sacks as a senior. The Dillard High product was rated as the top defensive end in Florida by the Florida Times Union and was a PrepStar All-American selection.
On offense every position is in good hands heading into 2003 season with the exception of tight end. With both Lorenzo Diamond and Robert Johnson gone from last year's team, Coach Hugh Nall and his offense has a hole to fill with just Cooper Wallace back with experience at the position.
With immediate playing time a definite possibility, Tuberville and staff signed three potential tight ends in Cole Bennett, Kenny Williams and Kevin Williams. Bennett, a 6-5, 230 pass catcher with great hands, was hurt much of his senior season but is expected to be 100 percent when two-a-days open in August. Kenny Williams is a big athlete that has the ability to get downfield despite a 6-7 frame. Kevin Williams, an early Miami commitment, is the physical brute at 6-7, 272 pounds, but is athletic enough to play the position as a true freshman.
" One, two, maybe three of those tight ends will play next year because we only have one on campus because of graduating one and the early exit of the other," Tuberville said. "We're going to be a two tight end team and sometimes three tight ends. We're going to ask all these guys to come in and learn the system and it doesn't make any difference who plays. We'll take the best one or two or three, whoever gets the job done, and play them. We have some great athletes at that position. We're very fortunate to get that many to come at one time. It's going to be fun to watch these guys compete against each other."