One of those questions is will a receiving corps composed of mostly inexperienced players be ready to step up and make a big impact for the coming season?
Wide receivers coach Greg Knox says that he thinks his group can handle the task. “They are going to be a good group,” he notes. “It is going to take them a little while, but they are going to come along and do well for us.”
Jeris McIntyre is shown in a preseason drill.
The questions at the position stem from a less than stellar passing attack in 2001 when the Tigers only managed throw for 2,282 yards. That total was good for only ninth best in the Southeastern Conference, prompting Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville to make a change as he brought in offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino from the Jacksonville Jaguars to replace Noel Mazzone.
The Tigers must also deal with the loss of the top two receivers from last year's team. Speedster Tim Carter, who will now spend his Sundays catching passes for the New York Giants, and Deandre Green, who transfered to Murray State after being dismissed from the team last December for breaking team rules.
Marcel Willis hopes to bounce back from an injury-plagued junior season.
Replacing Carter and Green will be a difficult task for the Tigers. The duo combined to account for 909 of Auburn’s total receiving yards and five of the 11 receiving touchdowns. However, the Tigers have four talented receivers returning who have all seen some playing time including sophomores Silas Daniels and Joe Walkins, junior Jeris McIntyre and Senior Marcel Willis. The coaching staff also recruited one of the best wide receiver classes in the nation and they will be called on early and often to make plays for an offense looking for a spark.
Daniels has shown potential as a deep threat this preseason with his speed and physical play. Walkins, who has been hampered with a nagging thigh injury during preseason practice and recently underwent surgery to correct the problem, should return in a few weeks but until then Knox will look for help from the freshman class.
Along with the returning receivers the Tigers will need some help from the talented group of freshmen that includes Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix, Montae Pitts, Courtney Taylor and Lee Guess. Knox says that he is excited about the way the freshmen are progressing as they try to pick up a new offense and adjust to college life. “Devin is slowly making progress up the ladder,” Knox says. “So is Ben, so is Pitts and Courtney Taylor. All of the young kids are really doing well.”
With the injuries to Willis and Walkins limiting their practice time, the freshmen have been getting even more of a chance to show what they can do. Obomanu is listed at first team on the depth chart with Mix and Pitts also making the two-deep roster. However, Knox says that he would not be surprised to see Aromashodu and Taylor also make a strong move for significant playing time this fall. “They both have a great shot," he says. "There is a great chance for both of them to be in there.”
One reason for the lingering questions about the receivers, other than the lack of experience, is the fact that there were a lot of dropped passes during two-a-day practices. Coach Knox says that he feels like there is a simple explanation for that problem and one that he believes is being corrected daily with repetitions in practice.
³Everything is new to them,” Knox notes. “They are learning how to run routes so they are concentrating more on the steps in their routes and getting in and out of their cuts. So the dropped ball part, I had a feeling that was going to happen early. Lately it has not been a factor because now they feel more relaxed in their routes and they get in and out of their cuts quicker and they are able to get their heads around and find the ball.”
Knox also notes that if his guys can keep catching the ball they way they are now they will make some big plays this season. “We are going to take our shots down the field and hopefully we can come up with some big catches and make some big plays out of it.”