Scouting report: Receivers
Hey everyone. There have been some mildly interesting things happening with Auburn and its former employees, so let's get to business.
**Cliff Ellis got the job at Coastal Carolina. I know he's been derided for the program's recent run-in with the NCAA, which was irresponsible. That criticism is deserved. Still, I grew to like Ellis and found him to be a respectable man during the last three years of his Auburn tenure. He'd hide from the media at times. If we did catch him, though, he'd answer things honestly. I think he'll do good work at Coastal because he can coach. His Auburn teams rarely lacked coaching. Consistent recruiting was the problem.
It's also important to me that I mention Jamison Brewer and Marquis Daniels (pictured), two "at-risk" kids whom Ellis brought to Auburn. Other schools stayed away from these kids for academic and personal reasons. Ellis brought them to Auburn and helped them become better people and outstanding players. Daniels, in particular, improved so much under Ellis' tutelage. He came to Auburn as a clueless kid and left a real inspiration. I don't say stuff like that about college athletes very often. Ellis saw something in both Brewer and Daniels that other people didn't. I thought that was Ellis' best work.
**Former defensive lineman DeMarco McNeil will spend this season as a volunteer assistant coach at Auburn. He's another memorable player and stand-up guy. First Daniels and now McNeil. Y'all will start calling me a softy soon.
**Senior Quentin Groves has been named to the Ted Hendricks Awards watch list. The award, named after the former University of Miami end who later became an NFL Hall of Famer, is given to the nation's top defensive end. This won't be the last time Groves' name comes up on award lists. This should be a massive year for him.
**DeWanna Bonner has been playing about 10 minutes per game for the United States' U21 World Championhships basketball team. She told me a few weeks ago that she was going to work on her rebounding during her time with the team. Through four games, Bonner is the team's third-leading rebounder and has 14 offensive boards. She's obviously making good on her promises. Other numbers: 5.9 ppg; 8-21 FG, 7-8 FT. She's 0-4 from three-point range. She never stops trying to be a shooting guard.
ON THE RANKINGS:
I like grading on a scale of 1 to 5.
5 is best, a future NFL star.
3 is SEC average.
1 is a long-term project or someone who could play in NAIA right now.
I post two grades for each player: current score (college peak score)
2006 overview: Courtney Taylor was the only reliable wideout heading into the season, and came through just as many expected. Walk-on Rod Smith was the surprise. He emerged as a legitimate second option, which gave Auburn's passing game just enough bite to be sucessful overall. Prechae Rodriguez was OK. No other wideout had more than 10 receptions.
The tight ends were surprisingly useful overall. Senior Cole Bennett suffered a serious leg injury during the LSU game and didn't play another snap. Freshmen Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie were electric at times despite their lack of experience. Since there were few play-makers at wideout, offensive coordinator Al Borges gave the tight ends some big-play opportunity. Trott caught an important touchdown pass in the South Carolina win. McKenzie was at his best in the loss to Arkansas. McKenzie established himself as a fear-inducing blocker while Trott, despite some pre-season criticism about his conditioning, showed the receiving skills that made him so alluring in high school.
2006 depth chart:
STARTER -- Courtney Taylor (4.25)
BACKUP -- Montez Billings (3.0)
"X" (split end)
STARTER -- Rod Smith (3.5)
BACKUP -- Prechae Rodriguez (2.75)
STARTER -- Lee Guess (3.0)
BACKUP -- Robert Dunn (2.75)
STARTERS -- Tommy Trott (3.5) and Gabe McKenzie (3.5)
My projected 2007 depth chart
STARTER -- Montez Billings 3.5 (3.75)
BACKUP 1 -- Chris Slaughter 3.5 (4.5)
BACKUP 2 -- Prechae Rodriguez 3.0 (3.5)
BACKUP 3 -- Tim Hawthorne 2.5 (4.0)
"X" (split end)
STARTER -- Rod Smith 3.5 (4.0)
BACKUP 1 -- James Swinton 2.75 (3.0)
BACKUP 2 -- Alex Rose 2.25 (4.0)
STARTER -- Robert Dunn 3.0 (3.5)
BACKUP 1 -- Terrell Zachery 2.25 (4.0)
STARTER -- Cole Bennett 3.75 (3.75)
BACKUPS -- Tommy Trott 3.75 (4.5) and Gabe McKenzie 3.75 (4.5)
The franchise player: I doubt anyone else would say this, but I believe Chris Slaughter is ready to be a star. The question right now is his academic standing. He spent 2006 at a prep school. Slaughter hasn't yet gained clearance from the NCAA, which is somewhat alarming given his path to this point. I dropped him from my projected starting lineup as a result. Without participating in voluntary summer workouts, the odds are stacked against Slaughter a bit more. He's tall enough, very fast, has outstanding hands by all accounts and holds the Georgia high-school record for career receiving yards. He could be a special one. Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie deserve some play here. If one of them breaks out during the second week of two-a-days, I'll probably regret my decision to highlight Slaughter here.
The next generation: Tim Hawthorne still has a chance. He was The Big Signee a year ago, redshirted and seemed poised to assert himself during spring drills. A deadly car accident in early March changed all that. Hawthorne lost a good friend during the early-morning crash, and suffered some serious lacerations and bruises. Hawthorne eventually returned to the team, but didn't accomplish much in terms of football work. He's in a difficult spot. There is some speculation about where Hawthorne will play. Hawthorne said earlier this summer that he was planning to play at the W position, but he's been mostly outside (X and Z) during summer workouts. Additional improvement likely will force coaches to consider playing Hawthorne more at Z along with Billings and, possibly, Slaughter. I have no doubt that Hawthorne has the skills to make a major impact. Still, he's dealing with a lot more than depth-chart clutter and the playbook right now.