Auburn, Ala.--Tommy Tuberville looked at the potential depth chart for the 2003 Auburn football team and smiled as he considered the possibilities at defensive end.
"It sounds funny to say it, but we should have good depth at that position this year," Tuberville said. "It is about time. We were very, very thin last year at defensive end. After Reggie Torbor got hurt before the opener and again vs. Southern California, we were really short on numbers there."
Bret Eddins, who was slowed early in the season by a groin injury, got well and became a much bigger factor down the stretch. "He was the most improved player on our defense last year," Tuberville said.
Tuberville noted that Mayo Sowell did a very nice job of making the switch from linebacker during the season. Sowell, who was injured in the Georgia game, is not expected to be full speed until preseason drills in August and he will likely be able to return to linebacker because reinforcements are on the way at defensive end.
The head coach also has high praise for the job that defensive tackle Dexter Murphy did at end after making the move outside. He will likely be a swingman between tackle and end again as a senior this fall.
Jay Ratliff, who made the move to defensive end from tight end last spring, missed most of spring practice with an injury and was less than full speed almost of the fall. Like Torbor and Eddins, he is healthy again. Add redshirt freshman Kyle Derozan into the mix along with an impressive looking early signee, junior college transfer Tony McClain, and it becomes clearer why Tuberville is happy. It also doesn't hurt that the coach signed five other quality defensive ends--four high school seniors and another juco standout, Doug Langenfeld, who is scheduled to report to AU this summer.
While Langenfeld will have two years of eligibility, McClain is already getting a head start on competing for playing time plus he will have an extra year of eligibility because he redshirted his first season at Coffeyville, Kan., Community College. McClain got to practice with the Tigers in December prior to the bowl trip to Orlando. He has been in Auburn going through winter workouts and said he is looking forward to the start of spring drills in March.
"We are doing a lot of things to get everybody in shape," he said of winter workouts. "It is going to take me a little bit of time to learn the defense this spring, but once I do I think I will be OK."
McClain was nationally recruited after making 19 quarterback sacks last season for Coffeyville, the champions of the Jayhawk Conference. When he arrived at Auburn in December, the six-foot-three defensive end weighed in at 255. He is now up to 270 pounds after spending time in the strength and conditioning program at Auburn.
"I will probably drop a few pounds before the start of the season if I need to improve my quickness," he said. However, McClain noted that he thinks he has kept most of his quickness with the added weight. Speed has always been a major asset to a player who was a 219-pound All-State safety at B.F. Terry High in Rosenberg, Tex., before heading to junior college where he got significantly bigger and moved to the defensive front.
Tony McClain (97) and Jay Ratliff (83) are shown during a December bowl practice in Auburn.
Commenting on making the move from junior college football in Kansas to Auburn, McClain said, "It is is a step quicker here. It is going to take time to adjust. I think by the time spring practice is over, I will have learned the package and then I can come in and compete for a starting job in two-a-days and make a big impact.
"One of my goals is trying to work my way into a starting position. If I can get a starting position I want to at least make eight or nine sacks if not more. I finished up this last year with 19. Although some people say it was just junior college ball, but I was playing against guys who were the same size as the guys here."
Tiger Ticket Extra: McClain has twin brothers Lance and Vance who have signed to play at Blinn, Tex., Junior College. Lance is a 6-2, 280 defensive tackle and Vance is a 6-3, 230 linebacker, McClain noted.