As his team continues winter workouts in preparation for spring drills that will start on March 3rd, Tuberville has a variety of reasons to be less concerned about depth than at any other time in his Auburn tenure. In fact, there is a good possibility that he will be able to look at the depth chart a week or two before the xoming season's opener and smile about what he sees.
With 16 returning starters to choose from in 2003, along with others who have either starting experience or significant game action under their belts, Auburn can focus on building the type of depth necessary to cope with a demanding 12-game regular season schedule that features early tests against non-conference opponents Southern Cal and Georgia Tech along with the traditional SEC rivalry games. Tennessee, formerly an annual early season challenge for the Tigers, returns to the schedule with the Volunteers making an Oct. 4th appearance at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
After putting together what appears to be another strong signee class, the coaches are making preparations for their 15 days of spring practice that will start on March 3rd and end with the April 5th A-Day game.
On defense, a key concern will be finding a replacement for middle linebacker Mark Brown. The hard-nosed senior will be missed. Lemarcus Rowell finished the 2002 season as Brown's backup with another freshman, Jake Slaughter, in reserve.
"I don't know who we are going to play at middle linebacker," says Tuberville. "In spring training we will look at both Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby at middle linebacker. Last year they both did that. Derek Graves will get a lot of practice time. Obviously, Antarrious Williams will not go through spring training because he broke his leg and that has been operated on. Mayo Sowell will go back to linebacker now that we have depth at defensive end. He played real well for us last season at end, but we are are going to need him at mike linebacker."
Antarrious Williams will be a redshirt sophomore this fall.
Other possibilities at middle linebacker include Mike Sherrill, who was redshirted last fall as a true freshman, and Kevis Burnham, another 2002 signee. "I don't think they are going to let Burnham go through spring," Tuberville says. "He could play outside linebacker or play defensive end. We will probably play him on the inside. He had a partial tear of the ACL so Dr. (James) Andrews fixed it in September. He will be close to practicing at full speed. He could play end, but we probably don't need him there, which sounds funny to say after all of the depth problems we have had at end."
Offensively, the Tigers are loaded at running back and the line of scrimmage looks strong. Tuberville says finding a backup quarterback to Jason Campbell will be important. He also says that developing Auburn's young wide receiver corps will be a focus of spring workouts.
New quarterback coach Steve Ensminger will be working with returning starter Campbell, who will be a redshirt junior, along with redshirt freshmen Brandon Cox, Wesley Hill and Josh Sullivan, a former walk-on who is now on scholarship. In the fall, two more QBs will join the mix when signees Kelcy McKissic-Luke from Central High in Phenix City and Courtney Denson from Central High in Miami, Fla., join the mix.
Tommy Tuberville will be watching the younger players this spring to see if they are ready for prime-time game action.
Campbell and his backups should have plenty of talented receivers to throw to this year. The head coach is anxious to see how one of his redshirt freshmen players does this spring. "Courtney Taylor is a player we are going to leave at wide receiver, although he could play safety, too," Tuberville says. "He is a guy who can really help our offense. He can make you miss after he catches the ball." Taylor is making the conversion from high school quarterback to college receiver.
Courtney Taylor was a high school quarterback and defensive back, but will play wide receiver for the Tigers.
"Jason should be better this year at quarterback and I am glad we have him for two more seasons," Tuberville says. "If you look at our receivers, we have Silas (junior Silas Daniels), who should be better, along with players like Aromashodu (sophomore Devin Aromashodu) and Mix (sophomore Anthony Mix) and Obomanu (sophomore Ben Obomanu). Courtney Taylor is probably the best of them."
Will Herring was impressive in practice last fall before the coaches made a decision to redshirt the safety during his first collegiate season.
Spring Training Notes: A pair of promising redshirt freshmen safeties will try to make moves for playing time in the spring. Will Herring and Karibi Dede are players that defensive coordinator Gene Chizik will be watching carefully. Auburn must replace starting free safety Travaris Robinson. Junior Rosegreen, who had a strong sophomore season, is back as the starter at strong safety. Donnay Young and Roshard Gilyard both have significant playing time as collegians and are both former starters at safety so the cupboard is not exactly bare at those positions...The Tigers played three senior cornerbacks in 2002. Finding replacements for Roderick Hood, Horace Willis and Rashaud Walker was a priority in the 2003 signee class and the Tigers look to have help coming from Eric Brock from Benjamin Russell High in Alexander City, David Irons, Jr. from Butler County Community College in Kansas along with Patrick Lee from Christopher Columbus High in Miami. All three are scheduled to report to practice in August. Carlos Rogers will be back as a junior starter at the weakside cornerback position. Other candidates for playing time include Dee Durham and Montae Pitts, who made the move late last season from wide receiver to defense. Lamel Ages and Gerald Williams will also be in the mix this spring.
Part three will publish on Wednesday.