Auburn, Ala.--No position will need more re-tooling this spring than tight end where 2002 senior Lorenzo Diamond and junior Robert Johnson are both gone. Bringing back just one player in Cooper Wallace and with nobody else on the roster experienced at the position, first-year tight end Coach Patrick Moore definitely has his work cut out for him.
Robert Johnson is now trying to prepare for the NFL draft.
The team leader in catches in 2002 with 30 for 365 yards and four touchdowns, Johnson was expected back for his senior season but opted instead to try his hand at professional football. His loss leaves Auburn short at the position with only All-SEC Freshman selection Wallace manning the spot. With eight catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns last season, he proved his worth in mostly a backup role, but would now have a great chance to be the full-time starter.
A problem area is what to do after Wallace. In Auburn's offense there are many sets and situations that call for two tight ends in the game at the same time. That might not be a big problem next fall when true freshmen Cole Bennett, Ken Williams and Kevin Williams are expected to come in and challenge for playing time, but it does pose a problem this spring. That is one reason why the coaching staff decided to make a move with Anthony Mix going to tight end for the 15-practice schedule leading up to the A-Day game on April 5.
Cooper Wallace was a standout last spring and looks to do that again. He will be working with his third tight end coach since arriving at Auburn. Patrick Moore follows Tony Levine and Steve Dennis.
"We just want to get better," Moore says of spring practice. "We have Cooper Wallace coming back. He was Freshman All-SEC. Anthony Mix is playing tight end for us, which he dabbled with last year. Steven Ross, who is an offensive tackle but a heck of an athlete. He is going to play some tight end for us. We've got some young guys at the position and some guys that offer different things. Cooper is a heck of a blocker and a good receiver. Mix is a great receiver and obviously needs to work on his blocking coming from playing wide receiver. Ross is a good blocker and probably hasn't caught a ball before.
"It's good that we can all work together and build off what each is good at. With the strength of our offensive line and Jason Campbell and the running backs and receivers, it's going to give us some time to get better, but we also as a group have talked about how they can't wait on us. It's our job as a tight end group to let the offense keep going and keep getting better. We can't hold them up while they wait on us. We're going to play with a tight end and we have to be the ones to do it."
For Mix this is a move that has been talked about since he arrived on the Auburn campus last summer. A huge receiver with good speed, he showed the ability to make big plays last fall despite being hampered by a shoulder injury for the better part of the season. With 13 catches for 193 yards and one touchdown, he was a viable receiver for quarterback Jason Campbell out of the slot position and should give the Tigers yet another weapon on an already loaded offensive unit going into the 2003 season.
Anthony Mix, with wide receivers coach Greg Knox in the background, is making the move to a new position.
"He's going to be a full-time tight end," Moore notes. "He's 6-4 or 6-5 and 235 or 240 pounds, hopefully, and he just has to understand the more physical play of the tight end position. Obviously, he's one of the better wide receivers we have already, but he's a unique enough athlete where he has the big frame and could present a lot of problems if he comes through. He has to be a blocker first and he knows that, but knowing that is different than doing it.
"He's excited about the position because he knows he can be a threat there," Moore adds. "It's going to be a mismatch for him being a wide receiver coming out of the tight end set. He has to understand now that he's a tight end and not a wide receiver. He's more of a lineman now than he is a wide receiver. It's something that he has to get better at--he knows it and we know it. The good thing is he knows it. We expect a lot of him and I think we're depending on him to be a solid tight end for us this year."
The Tigers open spring practice on March 4 and they will have 14 more practices before closing spring drills on April 5 with the A-Day game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Part seven of the series will be published on Tuesday.