Auburn Preview 2006 - Offense
Auburn Eagles
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Auburn Tigers Preview 2006 - Auburn Tiger Offense

What you need to know ... The offense averaged 32.3 points per game last year, but it wasn't consistent and ended on a sour note with a surprising stinker against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Despite the loss of top tackles Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick along with the top three receivers and starting tight end Cooper Wallace, expect things to be even better. QB Brandon Cox knows what he's doing, Kenny Irons leads a deep and talented backfield, and there's more than enough explosion to go around among the receivers. The problem is inexperience in the receiving corps and depth on the offensive line, but neither should be a issue unless there's a big injury problem early on.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Brandon Cox
177-306, 2,324 yds, 15 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Kenny Irons
256 carries, 1,293 yds, 13 TD
Receiving: Courtney Taylor
22 catches, 278 yds, 1TD

Star of the offense: Senior RB Kenny Irons
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior OT King Dunlap
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Prechae Rodriguez
Best pro prospect: Irons
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Irons, 2) QB Brandon Cox, 3) WR Courtney Taylor
Strength of the offense: Running backs
Weakness of the offense: Offensive line depth

It's not giving enough credit to the quarterbacks to say offensive coordinator Al Borges can simply plug in a player who'll produce, but the system is passer-friendly. Brandon Cox did a wonderful job in his first year at the helm, but now he'll be expected to raise his completion percentage from 58% to around 65% to really get the attack humming. The backup situation is excellent with Blake Field a solid emergency option with a game of starting experience under his belt. 6-4, 242-pound Calvin Booker was an intriguing prospect before deciding to transfer.
The key to the unit: Getting more deep production and getting better play from Brandon Cox in the big games.
Quarterback Rating: 8

Projected Starter
- Brandon Cox, Jr. - 177-306, 58%, 2,324 yds, 15 TD, 8 INT
Cox might not have been Jason Campbell, but he had an excellent year after spending two years learning under the current Washington Redskin. He was deadly accurate ripping apart mediocre defenses when given time, but when he was off, he was really off. He only struggled in three games, and it just so happened to be the three games Auburn lost throwing four picks in the opener against Georgia Tech, completing 16 of 40 passes in the loss to LSU, and completing a mere 15 of 33 passes in the Capital One Bowl loss to Wisconsin. He was the league's most efficient passer in the Al Borges system, and now he'll be asked to do even more with the offense and make even more deep plays. Don't expect much in the way of rushing yards or scrambling, but he's not a statue.

Top Backups
- Blake Field, Soph. - 17-31, 55%, 237 yds, 3 TD
While not huge like fellow backup Calvin Booker, he has a good arm and he has a good grasp of the offense despite not playing much with the first team. He stepped in when Brandon Cox missed the Western Carolina game and completed 13 of 22 passes for 200 yards and three touchdowns in the easy win. He's all but cemented as the number two man. He was a superior high school punter.
- Calvin Booker, Soph. - He would've been a key number three quarterback, but he chose to transfer. He's a huge 6-4, 242-pound bomber who saw the field in the win over Western Carolina but didn't do anything more than hand off.

Running Backs
What was seen as a potential problem before last season after losing Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown turned into a positive with the emergence of Kenny Irons, who not only led the SEC in rushing, but also made life easier for new starting QB Brandon Cox. Brad Lester is a good second option who just needs a little more work to be a star. You could do a lot worse than have big Carl Stewart and veteran Tre Smith carrying the ground game. The fullbacks are purely blockers. Mike McLaughlin has to show he can handle the full-time workload, but he should grow into a dominant run blocker.
The key to the unit: Keeping Kenny Irons fresh. The Tigers have too many backs to let Irons get banged up in the blowouts or in the meaningless games. Using more of a rotation and getting more work for Brad Lester, Carl Stewart and Tre Smith will be important so Irons has a full tank of gas for the big battles.
Running Back Rating: 9.5

Projected Starters
- Kenny Irons, Sr. - 256 carries, 1,293 yds, 13 TDs, 5.1 ypc, 14 catches, 164 yds
The South Carolina transfer ripped it up in spring practice of 2005, but didn't get into the mix until the third game of the season when he tore off 147 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Ball State on just 11 carries. He then went on to be one of the SEC's best players with eight 100-yard days showing off tremendous home-run hitting speed highlighted by a brilliant 218-yard day in the loss to LSU. He's not necessarily a power runner, but he's physical and doesn't go down easily. When he has a sliver of daylight, he'll tear off a huge gain. 

- Fullback Mike McLaughlin, Soph.
Purely a special teamer last year, the 236-pound sophomore will be in charge of opening up holes for Kenny Irons. He has the power to be a good short-yardage runner and was great around the goal line in high school. Don't expect too much work with Auburn rarely giving its backs the ball, but McLaughlin could be used a little bit as a receiver.

Top Backups
- Brad Lester, Soph. - 52 carries, 339 yds, 5 TDs
Lester had a fine redshirt freshman season finishing second on the team in rushing despite missing a few games with an injured groin. He's not all that big at 5-11 and 184 pounds, but he makes things happen when he gets the ball in his hands taking a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown against Ball State and rushing for 34 yards on just two carries against Georgia. His workload dropped over the second half of the season, but he'll play a far more prominent role this year.
- Carl Stewart, Jr. - 42 carries, 151 yds, 3.6 ypc, 1 TD
Stewart is the biggest back in the mix at 6-1 and 220 pounds, but he hasn't seen much more than the occasional carry along with 91 yards against The Citadel in 2004 and with 51 yards against Ball State last year. He has mostly been a blocker and has good hands when used as a receiver. He would work well as a fullback, but he's going to keep getting used as a big tailback.
- Tre Smith, Jr. - 56 carries, 285 yds, 5.1 ypc, 3 TD, 9 catches, 105 yds, 1 TD
After missing almost all of 2004 with a shoulder injury, Smith was the starter going into last season but didn't get more than backup work until the Kentucky game when he ran for 99 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. He has a good combination of quickness and strength for his size, but he's still going to work as a backup with his biggest role as a punt returner after returning 26 for 203 yards last year with a career average of 8.6 yards per try. He could also be used on kickoffs if needed.
- Fullback Andrew Turman, Jr.
Turman only saw the field against Western Kentucky as he's still getting the hang of being a fullback. A linebacker in high school, the strong 228-pounder should play a more prominent role this year purely as a blocker playing behind Mike McLaughlin.

It's an overstatement to call Auburn's receiving corps a disappointment last year, but it wasn't as good as it should've been considering all the returning experience and all the explosiveness. There's no need to shed many tears even though Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Anthony Mix are gone taking away the team's top three receivers. Courtney Taylor returns and looks to put his lousy 2005 behind him as he's flanked by a slew of very fast, but very inexperienced receivers. Prechae Rodriguez has all the makings of a great number two receiver, while Robert Dunn, Montez Billings and Rodgeriqus Smith all have the speed and potential to play big roles. The Tigers also lose starting tight end Cooper Wallace, but should be fine with senior Cole Bennett ready to show off his good hands in a starting role and two good prospects, Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie, behind him.
The key to the unit: Getting all the young potential to come through right away and hope for Courtney Taylor to look like an NFL target again.
Receiver Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- Courtney Taylor, Sr. - 22 catches, 278 yds, 12.6 ypc, 1 TD
Taylor got hit with an ankle injury early on and was never quite right the rest of the season. One of the SEC's best receivers in 2004 with 43 catches for 737 yards and six touchdowns with a 17.1 yard-per-catch average, he showed little of the same explosiveness last year failing to get into the end zone until the Capital One Bowl. He's a big, strong target who was great in 2004 at breaking tackles and gaining yards after the catch, and now he needs to revert to his old form for the offense to improve. 

- Prechae Rodriguez, Jr. - 13 catches, 240 yds, 18.5 ypc, 1 TD
The JUCO transfer had a hard time getting passes thrown his way with so many other targets in the mix, but he made an impact when he did make a play averaging 18.5 yards per grab catching six passes for 134 yards and a touchdown over a two game stretch against Ole Miss and Kentucky. He's 6-4 and has great deep speed, and now he'll be asked to grow into the team's most explosive threat.

- Robert Dunn, Soph. - 2 catches, 29 yds, 14.5 ypc
One the team's star recruits a few years ago, the former Georgia Mr. Football saw a little bit of work as a true freshman as a punt returner with five for 36 yards. He's a speedy receiver who'll take over one of the vacant starting jobs this fall. While he doesn't have the size of Prechae Rodriguez or Courtney Taylor, he's got playmaker written all over him.

- Tight end Cole Bennett, Sr. - 9 catches, 107 yds, 11.9 ypc, 2 TD
A part-time starter last year, Bennett should be ready for a huge year. He's a good-sized target at 6-5 and 261 pounds with surprising athleticism. He wasn't use as much in the passing game as he should've and will likely make his biggest mark as a blocker, but he'll be a load for most defensive backs to handle when he gets the ball on the move.

Top Backups
- Lee Guess, Jr. - 3 catches, 52 yds, 17.3 ypc, 1 TD
One of the team's faster receivers, Guess will try to do more than be a mop-up receiver pushing for time behind Prechae Rodriguez. He's not all that big at 5-10 and 177 pounds, but his wheels should eventually get him more work.
- Montez Billings, RFr.
He has the measurables. Billings is 6-2, 180 pounds and fast, fast, fast winning the Alabama state high school 200-meter dash in 2004 with a time of 21.74. He's too good an athlete to keep out of the mix for long even though he's a bit raw. He'll start out behind Courtney Taylor.
- Rodgeriqus Smith, Soph. - 6 catches, 109 yds, 18.2 ypc
After seeing time early with a string of four straight games with at least one catch, Smith was out of mix and didn't catch a pass over the final seven games. He's a terrific athlete who'll combine with Robert Dunn at one of the open starting slots.
- Tight end Tommy Trott, RFr.

While not nearly as big as Cole Bennett, the 6-5, 247-pound Trott has fantastic hands and should grow into a threat in the passing attack. He still has room to add about ten pounds to be more of a blocker, but he shouldn't have a problem being physical after spending part of his time in high school as a top defensive end.

Offensive Linemen
The line was good last year, but it wasn't as good as it could've been considering the talent at tackle and the emergence of Tim Duckworth as an all-star at guard. Things might even be better this year despite the loss of Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick on the outside with the likely emergence of King Dunlap, who is more athletic than McNeill and Reddick, and the further development inside of guard Ben Grubbs and center Joe Cope. Jonathan Palmer was tried out at center, but will likely move to tackle unless Leon Hart improves this summer. This is a huge, huge, huge line that will average 310 pounds per man depending on the lineup. The pass protection could stand to be better after allowing 21 sacks and the run blocking could stand to be more consistent, but when this group is humming, look out.
The key to the unit: Developing depth. The line is in big trouble if it has an injury problem early in the year. There's a scary lack of experience behind the top six players.
Offensive Line Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- OT King Dunlap, Jr.
A monster at 6-8 and 313 pounds, Dunlap is one of the few players who can literally fill the shoes of All-American Marcus McNeill. One of the program's star recruits of a few years ago, Dunlap has enough experience, and enough of the trust of the coaching staff, to play at a high level right away at left tackle. Run blocking won't be an issue, but he'll have to prove he can consistently keep his feet moving well in pass protection.
- OG Ben Grubbs, Sr.
One of the line's most reliable players over the last few years. the 6-3, 301-pound senior is a good athlete for his size and a dominating run blocker. After starting his career as a defensive lineman and a tight end, Grubbs now looks and plays like a veteran offensive lineman and should grow into an All-SEC caliber performer. 
- C Joe Cope, Sr.
While not all that big a 6-0 and 276 pounds, he's a technician and a stronger player than he gets credit for. Most teams try to push him around and see the former walk-on as an easy target to pound on, but he more than holds his own.
- OG Tim Duckworth, Jr.
There was some concern about Duckworth's ability to make the shift from defensive tackle to offensive line, but he came through with an All-SEC season and improved more and more each week. He's expected to be an All-America caliber performer now that he knows what he's doing. The 6-3, 310-pound junior is impossible to move.
- OT Jonathan Palmer, Sr.
The longtime veteran might be destined to finally be a full-time starter at tackle after Leon Hart didn't play as well as the coaching staff wanted him to this spring. At 6-4 and 325 pounds he offers far more size at center than the 276-pound Joe Cope if he moves back to his more natural spot in the middle, and he has 33 games of experience as a backup at several spots.

Top Backups
- OG/OT Leon Hart, Jr.
Hart is just now starting to grow into his potential. At 6-4 and 300 pounds, he's a big blocker who's also versatile enough to play anywhere on the line. After being tried out at guard and center, he tried his hand at tackle this spring but didn't work out as expected. Now he'll back up Tim Duckworth at right guard while still working at tackle. appears to have found a home at right tackle where he'll take over Troy Reddick's old job.
- OG Tyronne Green, Soph.
Green started out at guard, moved to defensive tackle, and now moves back to guard where he'll push for time behind Ben Grubbs on the left side. He's a big 6-3, 317-pounder who could use a bit more experience before being relied on for either guard spot in a full-time role.
- OT Oscar Gonzalez, RFr.
A future star on the line, the 6-7, 294-pound redshirt freshman will be groomed to be the team's next massive left tackle. He's athletic for his size and should grow into a good reserve behind King Dunlap.

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