The Tigers have retooled their offense -- and put the disappointments of last year behind them
After last season close friends Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown burned through their cellphone minutes debating whether they should enter the NFL draft early. Upon deciding to return to the Tigers for their senior years, the two tailbacks became even tighter, spending most nights this summer playing video games or hanging out at one of the barbecue joints in Auburn. This fall they will be linked more closely than ever because for the first time they will line up in the backfield together.
"I don't think you'll find a better one-two punch in the country," says Tigers coach Tommy Tuberville. "They'll present a lot of problems for defenses."
Tuberville hired a new offensive coordinator, Al Borges from Indiana, who has installed the West Coast offense and created the sets that will utilize the complementary runners in the splitback and I formations. The 5'11", 204-pound Williams, who gained 1,307 yards last season, is a slasher with blazing speed; the 6'1", 232-pound Brown, who chipped in 446 yards, is more of a power back. Over the last three years they combined for more rushing yards (4,460) than any other tailback tandem in the nation. "We feel like we should score every time we get the ball," says Williams, who last season led the SEC with 17 touchdowns.
Tuberville and Borges believe that quarterback Jason Campbell also will thrive in the new system. A redshirt senior working under his fourth offensive coordinator in five years, the 6'5", 228-pound Campbell can throw on the move but has been plagued by stretches of inconsistency in his three years as a starter. The West Coast offense emphasizes short passes, which should make Campbell more effective. "Jason had a great spring," Brown says. "He looks more comfortable than ever. Now Jason, just like the rest of us, needs to prove that we were better than we played last year."
If they don't prove it, Tuberville could be looking for a job. Last year expectations on the Plains ran as high as they had in a decade, but the Tigers lost their first two games -- scoring a total of three points against USC and Georgia Tech -- and in the second half of the season got whipped by SEC powers LSU, Ole Miss and Georgia to finish 8-5. Auburn has to replace five starters on defense, including all-conference linebackers Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas.
Tuberville was nearly fired over the winter, and anything short of winning the SEC West could bring down the ax.
-- Lars Anderson