Auburn, Ala.--Spring training 2003 will be the first time that Tommy Tuberville coaches an Auburn University football team made up entirely of players that he and his staff have recruited.
The head coach says he is eager to get started after Auburn finished last season with a bowl victory over Penn State to improve its record to 9-4. The Tigers are expected to begin the first of 15 spring workouts on March 3rd and will wrap up spring drills with the annual A-Day Game on April 5th.
"I am excited," says Tuberville, whose team will have a very challenging opener on August 30 when a high-powered Southern Cal team comes to Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Trojans defeated Auburn 24-17 in the 2002 opener in Los Angeles.
"I don't know if we will win any more games than last year because the schedule is so tough, but when you have a running game like we have got, and a defense that is getting like it is getting, you should like your team," Tuberville adds.
Offensively, the Tigers return eight starters from the bowl victory over Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions. All-SEC Center Ben Nowland, tight end Robert Johnson and wide receiver Marcel Willis must be replaced. The Tigers have experienced candidates at each of those positions to step up, including junior-to-be Danny Lindsey, who has the potential to be an all-star caliber center. The starting guard has performed well in spot duty at the center position when Nowland was injured.
Danny Lindsey, who will be a junior this season, got his first start at center as a true freshman when Ben Nowland was injured.
"Most of our guys will be ready to go for spring training, but Danny Lindsey will probably miss about half of it," Tuberville notes. "He had his foot operated on."
Another offensive lineman with starting experience, sophomore-to-be tackle Taylor Bourgeois, is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery and is not scheduled to return to the practice field until August. Bourgeois is a player who could also get a look at guard this season.
Another key offensive player recovering from surgery is tailback Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, who broke a bone in his leg in the Florida game. "We won't do much with Carnell in the spring," Tuberville says. "He will do some running drills and some non-contact drills. He will be ready to go, but there is no reason to put him through spring. We have got enough running backs to look at."
Carnell Williams is not expected to see much action this spring. The Cadillac suffered a season-ending injury the Florida game last October.
With Williams, second team All-SEC pick Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and juco All-American Brandon Jacobs all on the spring roster, Auburn should have as good a group of tailbacks as any team in the nation.
Defensively, the Tigers must replace middle linebacker Mark Brown, free safety Travaris Robinson and the strongside cornerback position, which was shared by Roderick Hood and Horace Willis. Robinson was an All-SEC pick and Brown was a second team All-SEC selection. They will be missed and so will the cornerbacks.
Mayo Sowell, who will be a junior this coming season, is going to get a look at the middle linebacker spot. The head coach says he was very pleased with the job Sowell did last season making the move from linebacker to defensive end, where the Tigers almost ran out of bodies due to injuries last fall. "Mayo Sowell will be slowed in the spring," Tuberville notes. "He won't be full speed because he had a knee injury in the Georgia game. Mayo did a real good job for us last year. He was probably the best 220-pound defensive end in the country."
Mayo Sowell's most memorable game was as a linebacker when the Tigers beat No. 1 ranked Florida in 2001.
Another linebacker, sophomore-to-be Antarrious Williams, is still on the mend from a bowl game injury and will miss all of spring training.
Tuberville says the focus of spring training 2003 will be developing the team's younger players. He notes that seniors like defensive lineman Demarco McNeil will probably see limited action until preseason drills begin in August.
The players are currently involved in winter workouts. Strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall and his staff are concentrating on improving individual skills such as speed, quickness, strength and agility.
"This has been a good offseason," Tuberville says. "We have got a lot more players now who are athletic and we have a lot more depth. Spring practice is not for the seniors this year. They will go through drills and they will still work on learning the offense and defense, but there won't be many times when you see those guys in a scrimmage."
The Tigers plan no major changes in style of play in 2003. New offensive coordinator Hugh Nall will run the same system that was put in by Bobby Petrino last season. Petrino, who is now head coach at Louisville, has been replaced on the staff by Steve Ensminger, who will coach the quarterbacks and will have a major role in calling plays on game days. Eddie Gran (running backs) and Greg Knox (receivers) join Nall (linemen) as offensive coaches. Gene Chizik (safeties) returns for his second year as defensive coordinator and is assisted by Don Dunn (tackles), Terry Price (ends), Phillip Lolley (cornerbacks) and Joe Whitt (linebackers). Dunn, Gran, Nall, Price and Whitt have been on the Auburn staff since Tuberville took over the program prior to the 1999 season.
Spring Training Notes: With Robert Johnson declaring for the NFL draft after his junior season and Lorenzo Diamond being a senior in 2002, the Tigers have only one returning tight end. Cooper Wallace, who will be a redshirt sophomore in 2003, will be joined at the position by fellow redshirt sophomore Steven Ross, who will also see some practice time at offensive tackle. Both players are from Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tenn., and led their team to a state title as seniors. Auburn signed three tight ends to bolster depth at the position. In August Cole Bennett of Dalton, Ga., High, Kevin Williams from Sebastian River High in Sebastian, Fla., and Ken Williams from American High in Hialeah, Fla., will join the mix.
Part two of the series will be posted on Tuesday.