Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Soothing the bruise from the boos

AUBURN – While a spirited debate between the pro-boo and anti-boo factions of the Auburn fan base plays out on message boards this week, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has sought to soothe the boo-boo on quarterback Brandon Cox’s ego.

The coach used his Tuesday news conference to praise the way Cox has handled the insertion of true freshman Kodi Burns in the lineup, say nothing of the boos Cox received before and during Auburn’s loss to Mississippi State on Saturday.

In fact, Tuberville gave perhaps his most candid and telling assessment of why Cox, fifth-year senior and third-year starter, has struggled so through Auburn’s first three games.

“I'll tell you this: we have not given up on Brandon Cox,” Tuberville said. “Brandon is still going to be a quarterback. He could be at full tilt this week, next week, because he knows what we're doing. He just needs some help around him. Kodi doesn't need quite as much help because of his athletic ability out of the pocket.”

It means that, when a play breaks down, Burns can use his quick feet to buy more time to make chicken salad out of … well, you know the saying.

Tuberville’s statement also means that the less mobile Cox has his weakest supporting cast since he became Auburn’s starting quarterback in 2005.

Cox no longer has Devin Aromashodu, Anthony Mix, Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor at wide receiver and no longer has two-year leading rusher Kenny Irons in the backfield.

Cox has seen a complete turnover of the offensive line during his time as Auburn’s starter, with losses including second-round NFL draft picks Marcus McNeill and Ben Grubbs.

Cox is a pocket passer, waiting in the pocket for others to do their jobs. He’s a system quarterback running a West Coast-style system, expecting receivers to reach certain spots at certain times. He throws to those spots at those times.

Judging from how off the usually accurate Cox seems, one surmises that receivers aren’t sticking their pass patterns. Judging from how often the usually heady Cox seems to throw into coverage, perhaps he must take more chances because receivers aren’t getting open.

It stands to reason that Auburn’s receiving corps would be down. The older receivers are guys Auburn signed when Auburn was loaded at that position. The younger receivers – who signed after Aromashodu, Mix and Obomanu finished their eligibility -- are young.

Add that Brad Lester, Auburn’s top returning running back, has sat out on suspension through Auburn’s first three games. Add that King Dunlap, Auburn’s lone-returning starter on the offensive line, has been its biggest disappointment.

Does anyone remember that reputedly stout group of tight ends? Tommy Trott has played more like Tommy Drop. Even senior Cole Bennett let a Cox pass skip off of his hands, right to Mississippi State safety Derek Pegues, who returned it for a touchdown.

It always looks like the quarterback’s fault because the quarterback is the most visible player on the field. That which others do or fail to do is more subtle.

Tuberville said Cox does not deserve all of the blame and maybe not even a majority of it.

“I think in terms of how his season started – fifth year coming back, expectations were high, and making mistakes -- a lot of them weren't his,” Tuberville said. “He was forced into situations. He'd love to have two or three of the passes back, obviously.”

Tuberville said Cox has handled the situation admirably.

“He's a great guy. He was very supportive on the sidelines last week,” the coach said. “You find out a lot about people when things get tougher and tougher, and things couldn't be any tougher for him. He's a senior watching from the sidelines in the third game of the season; a season he thought would be a great start and a great year for him, which it could still be.

“… But there's not a guy I think more of than Brandon Cox. I've watched him this week. He's practiced hard, pushed himself hard, been a leader. That's just part of his demeanor.”

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