New Quarterback Coach Sees Promising Play

QB coach Steve Ensminger watched his four scholarship quarterbacks in their first 2003 spring scrimmage.

Auburn, Ala.--It is the norm for a defense to be significantly ahead of the offense for the first scrimmage of spring football practice. That is especially true if the scrimmage is very early in spring training as was the case with Saturday's Auburn scrimmage that came on just the fourth practice day.

The running game was solid, as expected, and the passing game was probably better than expected as four quarterbacks combined to complete 24-34 passes for 299 yards.

Returning starter Jason Campbell got all of the action with the first offense and he hit 9-13 passes for 84 yards with a 20-yard TD toss to sophomore wide receiver Devin Aromashodu. Campbell, a 6-5, 226-pound redshirt junior, was not intercepted in the scrimmage.

Jason Campbell

Head coach Tommy Tuberville says he likes what he saw from Campbell and notes that he wasn't surprised. "We expect Jason to continue to improve this spring and we expect he will have a real good season," Tuberville says. "The big issue for us at quarterback is that we need to come out of the spring with a solid backup to Jason. That is something that we have to do."

Based on Saturday's scrimmage, freshman Josh Sullivan could be that man. He completed 10-15 passes for 185 yards. His favorite target on the day, wide receiver Courtney Taylor, caught four passes for 128 yards. The two have worked together a good bit. Both were redshirted last fall as true freshmen. Taylor says he enjoyed having Sullivan throwing him the football on Saturday. "Josh is pretty good and I have seen that from day one," Taylor says.

Sullivan says he did some good things in the scrimmage and was generally pleased, but says he will be busy in week two of spring drills looking to make improvements in a variety of areas. Sullivan, who joined the team as a walk-on last fall, showed enough potential to move up to third team QB last season after walking on. He was a quarterback and baseball star at Central High in Little Rock, Ark. Tuberville has put him on scholarship and Sullivan is the leading candidate to be Campell's backup when the 2003 season opens vs. Southern California.

"Josh did good in the scrimmage," Tuberville says. "He has had the ability to learn this offense. Josh has got a real strong arm. He is going to get better and better as we go. I think he is going to be a terrific quarterback. He has just to keep on working and get his mind right to understand as we go along. As we add stuff, he has got to get better and better."

Jason Campbell gets a pass off out of the end zone at Saturday's scrimmage before senior defensive end Reggie Torbor can sack him.

Two other quarterbacks saw limited action with Wesley Hill and Brandon Cox both completing two of three tosses. Hill had one bad throw that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Travis Williams. This is Hill's second spring with the Tigers after signing with AU as an early high school graduate in December of 2001 out of Crisp County High in Cordele, Ga.

One of the more interesting questions of spring drills has been how former Alabama Mr. Football, Brandon Cox of Hewitt-Trussville High, would perform. The left-hander had some medical problems last year and left the team and returned home in the preseason for before having a chance to show what he could do in a scrimmage situation.

"Brandon is doing fine," says Auburn's new quarterback coach, Steve Ensminger. "Right now (Cox and Hill) are not getting as many reps as I would like for them to get. I knew that would happen this scrimmage, but I am going to try to get those last two guys more reps in practice this week."

Wesley Hill

Ensminger, who joined Tuberville's staff after the 2002 season to replace Bobby Petrino as coach of the quarterbacks after Petrino was named head coach at Louisville, says he sees room for improvement with all of the QBs. However, the overall effort received a thumbs up review from the new coach. "I thought quarterback-wise I was very pleased with it with the exception of two interceptions, which I thought were poor decisions on their part throwing the football. One was good read and just a poor throw. The other one should never have thrown it. Besides that I was pleased with the timing of our routes throwing the football."

Ensminger says he likes the way Campbell is continuing to work hard to develop as a quarterback. "I was very pleased with Jason," he says. The coach also has praise for Sullivan, who missed a baseball road trip to North Carolina to stay and make progress as a quarterback. Sullivan is a relief pitcher for Coach Steve Renfroe's baseball Tigers. "I thought Josh had a good day," Ensminger says. "Of course, he has had more reps than the other two.

For a first scrimmage, Ensminger says the timing of the quarterback with the receivers was solid. He says that Campbell's overthrow on a deep pass is something that Ensminger plans to work with the junior on avoiding in the future. Ensminger also notes that Campbell missed a sideline pass that the coach says was a play that could have been made. "Everything else was good with Jason," he says.

Week two of spring drills, which starts on Tuesday, is expected to feature an emphasis on the passing game. "We are going to work a lot on throwing the ball down the field," Ensminger says. "We have some receivers who can go get the football."

The new coach also carefully watched how much poise each of his quarterbacks displayed in the scrimmage with a fast, hostile and experienced defense on the other side of the line of scrimmage. "I was very pleased with how our quarterbacks competed and with their command in the huddle and their leadership," Ensminger says.

Ensminger, the quarterbacks and the rest of the Tigers will return to the practice field on Tuesday for the fifth of 15 spring practices.

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