Auburn's New Offense Generating Buzz Among Players

Tigers open bowl practice with talk of spread offense

Dec. 15, 2007

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - So much for focusing on Auburn's opponent in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The No. 22 Tigers opened bowl practice Friday, but all the talk was about the spread offense the Tigers will be running - next season. Tommy Tuberville's 21-minute news conference featured exactly zero questions about No. 15 Clemson, the opponent on Dec. 31.

"If you go back and look at the top 10 in the country, there's a lot of them running a little bit of a version of the spread," Tuberville said. "That's what we're looking for."

The hot topic remains newly hired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, mainly because it likely heralds a significant departure from Tuberville's past run-and-play-defense philosophy. So what if it's unlikely the Tigers (8-4) will make dramatic changes in 10 or so bowl practices?

Tuberville said the switch is about keeping up with the trends around high school football and with success stories like Missouri and West Virginia.

"We're not looking for a wholesale spread," Tuberville said. "We're looking for a version that will help us in the recruiting area and also in making big plays."

The Tigers (8-4) have managed just 10 passing plays of 30-plus yards this season, struggling to connect on downfield passes. But Tuberville said the fault doesn't fall entirely on Al Borges' playcalling.

Blame it also on a shortage of speedy, consistent receivers and senior quarterback Brandon Cox's inconsistency throwing the long ball.

"I'm concerned more about getting the ball downfield, being able to make plays, being able to get balls in the hands of guys like James Swinton more often," Tuberville said. "Guys that can make plays and get them downfield - that's the biggest thing we're trying to do."

Swinton is widely regarded as the Tigers' fastest player, but wasn't part of the playing rotation. He had one catch in the season opener and none after that.

Auburn does have highly touted receivers like Tim Hawthorne and Chris Slaughter who haven't yet lived up to their billing.



Tuberville said Cox's potential replacements - Kodi Burns, Blake Field and Neil Caudle - all played in some variation of the spread offense in high school.

"Everybody looks at it like we're making this major change," Tuberville said. "If you've recruited guys on offense, they at one point have played in this offense the last few years."

The Tigers are recruiting several quarterbacks and have a commitment from Briarwood Christian's Barrett Trotter. They are also among the schools pursuing Foley High School receiver Julio Jones, one of the nation's top prospects.

That's the long-term situation. The short-term goal is figuring out what, if any, parts of Franklin's system can be implemented in time for the bowl game and who will call plays. Tuberville said he didn't expect those questions to be fully answered before the Tigers break for Christmas next week.

Cox missed Friday's practice to attend a friend's funeral.

The other quarterbacks were off-limits to the media on Friday. Their teammates are looking forward to the change from an offense that ranked among the bottom four teams in the Southeastern Conference in passing, scoring and total yards.

"I just want to score points," tailback Ben Tate said. "Hopefully we can have some high-scoring games and you guys will finally get to see an explosive offense.

"Nobody knows exactly what's going on now. I don't know if it's going to be like a West Virginia-type spread offense or if it's going to be more like Oklahoma or Oregon. I'm clueless right now."

Franklin had 14 different players catch touchdown passes in his no-huddle offense this season. By contrast, Cox only threw for nine scores.

"This is going to be an offense where the receivers are involved a lot," said Rod Smith, Auburn's leading receiver. "Right now, it's all about playing fast. This offense is all about tempo."