Also, offensive balance is generally a prerequisite for success in this era of SEC football. And, for a team that finished ninth in the SEC last fall in passing yards with only 207 per game and seventh in passing efficiency, the search for balance has got to start somewhere. For the Tigers a group of big, playmaking tight ends should make for a good starting point.
The Tigers are returning senior Lorenzo Diamond, a team leader who caught 10 balls for 105 yards and one touchdown last season. Also returning is junior Robert Johnson, who finished third on the squad in receiving last season with 17 catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns despite being slowed by injury problems.
The Tigers will have the youthful help of redshirt freshman Cooper Wallace, who impressed Tiger fans with his strong play in this spring’s A-day game. Also, true freshman Anthony Mix was also taught how to play the position during two-a-days before moving back outside to the slot receiver spot. However, he can line up and play tight end if needed. He has the potential to cause matchup problems there with both his height (six-foot-five) and speed.
Diamond, who enters the season No. 1 on the depth chart, says that he is excited about how well all of the tight ends are coming along with the season opener a little more than a week away. “I think everybody is picking up the offense pretty well,” he says. “We’re out there everyday working hard. I think the offense is pretty much in and I think everybody pretty much knows what to do.”
Diamond also notes that having impressive talent throughout the depth chart at tight end makes a big difference. “We are going to rotate in and everybody is going to get their shots,” he predicts. “That is going to be a big deal because to come out and know that you have got somebody going in behind you that is just as talented as you and can get the job done is pretty assuring.”
This group of tight ends, minus Mix who wasn’t enrolled at Auburn at the time, was the backbone of the passing game during the 15 days of spring practice this year. Diamond, Johnson and Wallace were the leading three receivers by yardage in the drills and scrimmages throughout the spring. Diamond says the thought of being a featured part of the offense is an exciting proposition heading into the season. Last season, former offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone talked about showcasing the tight ends, but that did not happen.
“It’s always a thrill to be able to go out every game knowing that you are going to get a chance to contribute,” the senior says. “We have been a big part of the offense every year. We just haven’t had the opportunities that we are going to get this season. We are really looking forward to it and we are ready to step up to the challenge.”
Along with an added emphasis on their position in coach (Bobby) Petrino’s new offensive scheme, the tight ends are also working with a different position coach. Graduate assistant Steve Dennis has been coaching for 23 years and had a prior stint at Auburn in charge of defensive backs from 1985-92 when Pat Dye was head coach. Dennis is now back on campus coaching the tight ends for the Tigers.
Dennis says that he is excited about the talented group of players he inherited from Tony Levine, who accepted a full-time coaching post earlier this year at Louisiana Tech. “I enjoy their attitude and watching them try get to the level they want to be,” he says. “And they will all work together so it is going to be fun.”
However, Dennis does note that his new players have not learned everything that they need to know about him or the new offense just yet. “They are getting adjusted to me and they are working hard and we have just got to keep working,” he says. “We are not where we want to be and we have just got to keep plugging away and keep working better.”
Even with some work left to do for the tight ends before heading out to Los Angeles for opening night, Diamond says that when he thinks about his position one word comes to mind--“talent.” The senior adds, “We have got some great tight ends and we are going to try and utilize them as much as we can in this offense and hopefully that will help us win some games.”