Auburn Notebook: 11-2 Wasn't Enough
Head Coach Tommy Tuberville summarized it at SEC Media Days by saying, "We've got a chance to have a good football team. We're looking for consistency. Last year we won 11 games. Pretty good in this conference, but wasn't good enough to get to Atlanta. That's our goal. This year we have to go to LSU, to Georgia, to Florida, to Arkansas. We've got our work cut out for us."
Like any successful football program, it seems there are always big names to replace due to the NFL and graduation. Kenny Irons, the number four rusher in the conference, is gone. Wide receiver Courtney Taylor needs to be replaced as does big Ben Grubbs – an offensive lineman whose loss leaves a big hole at the line of scrimmage, literally.
Losing three key members on the offense hurts, especially when the coaching staff was already planning to revamp now that key people were healthy, "We didn't have a great offense last year for several reasons. One, Brandon was laid up so we pulled the plug about the middle of the season and started pounding it."
However, there are some key members returning as well. Quarterback Brandon Cox looks to stay healthy this year, as last season was chock full of injuries, making him almost immobile. To his credit, Cox played through the pain.
"We have a quarterback back in Brandon Cox. He's going to be a good player for us, and he needs to stay healthy. He's gotten stronger and quicker. He can't get any slower, but, he's um, he's got a chance to be a heck of a quarterback," says Tuberville, "He's a coach on the field. He extends the ball as good as I've ever seen. He's very accurate."
Filling the shoes of Kenny Irons, possibly the key offensive loss, falls on the shoulders of junior Brad Lester, "Irons was a tough and physical running back on the inside and outside. You have to be that way if you are going to be an every down back in this conference. Brad Lester last year and the year before was probably a little underweight. We've tried to put a little more weight on him where he can carry the ball 20 to 22 times a game. He's got the quickness to get it done."
"Our kicking game worked good for us most of the time. Now we're going to put the offense back in. We have a very young offensive line, but we have our tight ends back. We ‘re looking for a big play guy at wide receiver," said Tuberville, "Thirteen years ago, we learned that you need to have more than one running back. We now have four or five running backs who can play in this league."
It's the backfield that quarterback Brandon Cox likes the most, "We've got Brad Lester, Ben Tate, Mario Fanin, and Tristan Davis. Even Carl Stewart can play some tailback so we have the talent. Kenny was a great player, but we are loaded in the backfield."
The 2007 Auburn offense will look to show improvement from the unit that ranked 9th in the SEC in total offense a year ago.
Defensive end Quentin Groves returned for his senior season to show the pro scouts he's worth more than the "pass rusher only" label he's acquired. Look to see Groves all over the field. In some cases he'll be off the line as a linebacker.
"Defensively, Quentin Groves will be the guy we build our defense around," said Tuberville, "He's got a lot of quickness and speed. We're very proud of him. He came back for the fifth year instead of going to the NFL and that says a lot about his character. He wants to win."
Groves looks forward to his senior season, especially after spring practice, "It feels great. It seems like only yesterday we were getting ready to play in the Bowl game and now we're ready to start the season. I'm excited to just get out there and play."
The defensive unit loses David Irons, younger brother of Kenny and Will Herring. Herring started more games than anyone in Auburn history. These two loses really change the scope of the defense. Irons kept everyone alert while Herring just kept playing no matter what hurt.
Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp left the spring saying there were no playmakers to fill the shoes of those before them. The defensive backs, though they lose Irons, still have an experienced stable of safeties and corners in Aairon Savage, Eric Brock, Pat Lee, and Jonathan Wilhite.
Tray Blackmon, suspended twice last year, has the potential to be the big play linebacker the coaches are looking for but he didn't take part in the spring drills. If the sophomore can right the ship, he has strong potential to lead the defense to another strong campaign.
Coach Tuberville summed up the entire team as a blue collar unit that needs to gel, saying, "We have a very young team in some areas - a blue collar team. We're going to have some guys that are gonna' be extra special, but college football is about how your good players play together. Playing more consistently is the goal. We need 60 or 70 guys to play as good as they possibly can. If you're gonna' get through the West and get through to Atlanta, ya' got to beat LSU."
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