Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Auburn Adds 28th Commitment

Offensive tackle Eric Mack announced Wednesday that he plans to sign with Auburn on fast-approaching National Signing Day.

The four-star recruit is the 28th Auburn commitment/signee this year. Mack offers help to offensive line -- a position where Auburn needed more depth immediately.

In other news, my colleague Jay G. Tate reported today that WR Tim Hawthorne has enrolled to play at North Alabama next season. Hawthorne left the program after he graduated.

Hawthorne was originally considered a starter after spring practice, but broke his foot during summer workouts. He came back three games into the season but played sparingly.

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor didn't close the door on Hawthorne playing elsewhere during an interview last week, but said he didn't know anything for sure.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Taylor Interview Pt. II

When Auburn returns for spring practice, receivers coach Trooper Taylor knows he will be without Tim Hawthorne, who left the program.

He expects everyone else to return. That includes WR Philip Pierre-Louis, who spent the better part of the season in the doghouse either for off-the-field problems or performance issues. Pierre-Louis was suspended for the first four games. When he returned, he was used exclusively as a punt returner except when he was briefly used as a defensive back during the Furman game.

Pierre-Louis struggled in the role, fumbling or muffing several punts.

Taylor said he hopes PPL can regain confidence in the punt return game and could be used "on some bubble screens." That said, Taylor said the sophomore has no margin for error.

"His box is about as tight as a matchbox and he can’t step outside those lines," Taylor said. "He’s either going to be an Auburn man or he’s not. He’s not going to get very many chances to do that."

WR Derek Winter will also return, though largely as a special teams contributor again.

"He knows that his window’s not as wide as others’ but he knows that he will have a niche on this team," Taylor said.

Taylor also vowed to fight to get Anthony Gulley back on offense and back in the mix at receiver. Gulley moved to defensive back during the final few games to help Auburn at a position at which it was dangerously thin.

Taylor saw enough from Gulley in limited offensive action to know he wants the ball in his hands.

One player Taylor seems willing to concede is Mario Fannin. Some recruits are tagged with the "Athlete" tag, but that is always dropped once they get to campus. Fannin, through his first four years, has stuck with it.

He has played tailback, receiver, tailback, H-back, receiver, tailback and back to receiver.

Now? It looks like he's moving back to tailback. Taylor said that with Auburn's depth situation in the backfield, running backs coach Curtis Luper could use Fannin more. The Tigers have a pair of tailback commitments in Michael Dyer and D.J. Howard -- who canceled last week's trip to Clemson and seems set on going to Auburn -- and could get another from Marcus Lattimore.

When spring begins, though, Auburn will have three tailbacks -- Fannin, Onterio McCalebb and Dontae Aycock. All three should get opportunities to prove they can be an every-down back, but all three need to impress lest they serve as placeholders for Dyer or one of the other freshmen.

Fannin finished second on the team in receptions and will probably be used in a variety of ways. For the time being, though, the "ATH" next to his name largely becomes an "RB."

"He really just substituted for that lack of experience and confidence we had in those other guys," Taylor said. "Now that we have some confidence in those guys we can use him more as a tailback. He has that type of ability."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Catching Up With Trooper Taylor

A year ago, receivers coach Trooper Taylor seemed to have the most questions to answer.

Auburn didn't have its two leading receivers from the previous year and, moving to a spread offense, had nobody really established as a potential standout.

Taylor said he found a pair early in spring practice: Tim Hawthorne and Terrell Zachery. A few days later he started hyping Darvin Adams.

Hawthorne never fully recovered from a foot injury suffered during the summer, but Zachery (26 catches, 477 yds, 5 TDs; 271 rushing yards and one TD on 10 carries) and Adams turned in tremendous seasons.

Adams especially had a great year. He set a school record with 60 receptions and finished with 997 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

That came after Hawthorne's injury forced Adams into action.

Taylor expects big years from Adams and Zachery again in 2010, but didn't hesitate when asked who could have an Adams-like emergence next season.

"DeAngelo Benton," Taylor said. "I feel good about DeAngelo. I trust him. As the season went on, coach (offensive coordinator Gus) Malzahn trusted him a little bit more. He works hard in practice like you want everybody on the team to do. He doesn’t fuss or argue. It’s just ‘Yes sir.’"

Benton seems to be Taylor's choice though fellow true freshman Emory Blake got more opportunities at the end of the season. That seems to indicate Blake might be Malzahn's preference.

Taylor said Benton has made tremendous progress over the past few months after he struggled with some bad drops early in the season. Taylor attributed the drops to not knowing the offense well enough.

"It really was because he didn’t know the offense and I threw him out there early because I knew the ability that he had," Taylor said. "He went deeper on the routes than he was supposed to go so the balls were thrown behind him.

"I’m not one of those guys that say you went too deep. Once I got a part of him it was hard to bounce back. I think it made him better and made him mentally stronger."

When Benton needed to talk to someone, he went to Adams. Taylor said the two formed a tight bond and he thinks the pair could make a dynamic combination next season.

Benton will mostly work as Adams' primary backup, but could also split the slot receiver role with TE Philip Lutzenkirchen.

Taylor hopes Blake, meanwhile, will focus mostly on weight training between now and spring practice, saying Blake "needs to be married to Yox" -- referring to strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall.

More from my interview with Taylor tomorrow...

For more on Zachery and his breakout season, please read tomorrow's Anniston Star.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ex-AU coach Tuberville Hires Franklin Protege

Consider this Bizarro World Tommy Tuberville.

The former Auburn coach spent 10 years on the Plains and four years at Ole Miss winning with a power run game and an old-fashioned, grind-it-out offense.

When Tuberville did try to branch out and move to a spread offense with Tony Franklin, it backfired and blew up in his face -- ultimately leading to his resignation at Auburn after a 5-7 season.

Now at Texas Tech, Tuberville is again embracing the guns-up philosophy.

Tuberville hired Franklin protege Neal Brown to run the Red Raiders offense on Tuesday.

Brown followed Franklin as Troy's offensive coordinator after Franklin accepted Tuberville's invitation to serve the same role at Auburn. Had Franklin been allowed to bring coaches with him from Troy, Brown would have likely been one of Franklin's prime targets.

The pair worked together in a player-coach setting from 1998-2000 when Franklin was a coach at Kentucky and Brown was a receiver. Brown also played for the NIFL's Lexington Horsemen under Franklin in 2003. They again worked together when Troy coach Larry Blakeney hired Brown and Franklin in 2006.

One can only imagine the conversation Brown and Franklin had when discussing the option, considering Franklin's mid-season firing at Auburn. In the end, though, Brown accepted the position.

Franklin, now at Middle Tennessee State, applauded the hire.

Tuberville is also said to be targeting James Willis as his defensive coordinator. Willis, now at Alabama, coached at Auburn under Tuberville for three seasons.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Report: Tuberville in at Texas Tech

Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville vowed to return to coaching in 2010.

It appears he found his landing spot.

ESPN reported Saturday afternoon that Tuberville reached an agreement to become the new head coach at Texas Tech.

The report said Texas Tech scheduled a Sunday news conference in Lubbock, Tex. It also reported that Tuberville and his family would fly to Lubbock on Saturday night.

Tuberville went 85-40 – including seven of 10 games against Alabama – during his 10 years at Auburn after going 25-20 in four seasons at Ole Miss. His biggest year came in 2004 when Auburn went 13-0 and won the SEC. The Tigers were left out of the BCS Championship Game that year.

Tuberville resigned last December, four days after the Tigers lost 36-0 to Alabama to close out a 5-7 campaign.

Texas Tech needed a coach after firing Mike Leach for his mistreatment of receiver Adam James, who had been diagnosed with a concussion. Leach has refuted the claims and is currently suing the university for libel and slander.

The Red Raiders averaged 8.4 wins per season under Leach and also won the Alamo Bowl this year under interim coach Ruffin McNeill.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Auburn-Mississippi State Moved to Thursday

Auburn announced today that its Week 2 game against Mississippi State next year will be played Thursday, Sept. 9. The game had previously been slated for Saturday, Sept. 11.

ESPN will televise the game, which will serve as the conference opener for both teams.

Auburn is 6-2 all-time on Thursday night games. The Tigers lost their previous Thursday night game -- last year against West Virginia.

Auburn played Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. on a Thursday night in 2002. The Tigers won that game 42-14.

Here is Auburn's revised schedule (home games in caps, conference games in bold):

Sept. 9 Mississippi State
Sept. 18 CLEMSON
Oct. 9 Kentucky
Oct. 23 LSU
Oct. 30 Ole Miss
Nov. 26 Alabama

Monday, January 4, 2010

Commit Howard Having Second Thoughts?

Auburn commit and Lincoln High School standout ATH D.J. Howard will visit Clemson this weekend and could switch his commitment.

The crux of the problem lies in Howard's desire to play tailback. Auburn plans to give him a shot at the position, but would rather utilize him in the secondary -- probably at safety.

Clemson and Kentucky, conversely, want Howard as a tailback.

For more, read Bran Strickland's article in tomorrow's Anniston Star.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Looking Back at the Outback Bowl

TAMPA, Fla. – Auburn celebrated its eighth win of the season four times Friday during the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.

The first three times, the Tigers found out they still had work to do.

Auburn’s 38-35 overtime win over Northwestern certainly didn’t come easy, nor did it come in conventional fashion.

So when Neiko Thorpe tackled Zeke Markshousen at the Auburn 2-yard line on a fourth-down fumblerooski variation, it was a fitting end to a spectacularly chaotic game.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever come into a game with seven wins and come out with 10,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik joked afterward. “I haven’t had a chance to see many bowl games this season, but it would be hard to find one better than that.”

By the time it was officially over, defensive back Demond Washington couldn’t even walk, much less celebrate. Northwestern’s 115 offensive plays and three celebrations had taken their toll on the entire defense. Reserve defensive end Dee Ford and a trainer had to carry Washington to the locker room before rejoining the team.

Other starters, like Thorpe, were so exhausted they were left gasping to catch their breath.

Finally, though, the Auburn players didn’t have to think about regrouping for a final play. That had happened plenty of times already, including with less than 1:30 remaining in regulation.

... For more, read the story here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Newton is Official

Here is Auburn's release:

Auburn football has signed junior college QB Cameron Newton to a National Letter of Intent, announced head coach Gene Chizik Thursday. The No. 1 overall junior college prospect according to, Newton helped lead Blinn College (Texas) to the 2009 NJCAA National Championship.

“We’re extremely pleased that Cameron Newton has decided to become a part of the Auburn Family,” Chizik said. “In addition to being the nation’s premier junior college player, we also feel like he’s a great fit for Auburn.”

The 6-6, 245-pound Newton passed for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 655 yards and 16 scores this past season at Blinn. Newton completed 204-of-336 for Buccaneers, who finished with an 11-1 record.

A native of Atlanta, Ga., Newton transferred to Blinn after attending the University of Florida in 2007 and 2008. As a true freshman in 2007, Newton was the backup quarterback, playing in five contests. He rushed for 103 yards on just 16 carries, scoring three touchdowns on the ground, while passing for 40 yards on 5-of-10 passes. He redshirted in 2008.

Newton attended Westlake High School in Atlanta where he was named to the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Super Southern 100 and participated in the inaugural All-American Offense-Defense All-American Bowl as a senior.