Chip still on AU#039;s shoulders

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2005

HOOVER — If it looks like there is a chip on Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville's shoulder, it's because there is.

Following an undefeated season where the Tigers won the SEC Championship and were frozen out of the National Championship game, Tuberville hopes he isn't the only one carrying a chip on their shoulder this season.

"We don’t hold any grudges against anybody that played in (the championship game) because they earned the right," said Tuberville on Day 2 of SEC Media Days. "They won the same amount, but it’s just the system the way it’s been handled Š If you sit in our football team’s seat it will make you pretty mad and make you disgusted with how it all went on. Nobody is at fault other than the group of people that have the opportunity to change the rules."

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But the rules don't look to be changed any time soon.

So how do you top having four first-round draft picks on a team that ran the table?

Tuberville says that this season's team is the most talented since in the six years he's been on the Plains.

"But we don’t have the one thing that sometimes you need and that’s experience," Tuberville explained. "Experience is something that you can’t just recruit; you have to build it."

And the Tigers certainly lack in experience in a couple areas. Brandon Cox takes the helm of Auburn's offense after seeing just a few snaps last season in mop-up roles for Jason Campbell.

If there is any comfort to having an inexperienced quarterback under center at Auburn it would be the fact that the Tigers return a majority of their offensive line led by preseason All-America tackle Marcus McNeil.

"It's going to be a big challenge because I know Brandon Cox is going to need to build his confidence and things like that," said McNeil, who passed up leaving early for the NFL to return and play his senior season. "But I have all the faith in the world in him. If he needs more time, the offensive line plans on giving him more time. We know he can't roll out and run quite as fast as Jason Campbell, but at the same time (Cox) is a great quarterback and I have all the confidence in the world in him."

Tre Smith is the most experienced returning running back, but he's no Carnell Williams or Ronnie Brown.

"You don’t replace a Cornell Williams and Ronnie Brown; nobody does," Tuberville said. "You just don’t do it in college football. They had great ability and leadership skills and the heart the size of a basketball."

And Smith may miss a few weeks of practice to recuperate from an emergency appendectomy performed just a few days ago.

Tuberville said that Smith has been staying in tip-top shape and that he would have seen limited action on the practice field over the next few weeks anyway.

On the defensive side of the ball, Tuberville said that the surprise player of the year for the Tigers may be junior college transfer cornerback David Irons.

"David is probably the most athletic defensive back I have ever been around," Tuberville said. "He will take (Carlos) Roger’s position. He has got great jumping ability, speed, quickness and about as good a cover corner as I have ever been around Š In our league (you need) at least one corner that you can say, 'well, OK, that’s their best guy, go get him.'"

Even with four first-rounders gone from a 13-0 team, McNeil said the chances of a repeat are there.

"We weren't picked to win the SEC Championship last year and look where we finished," he said. "Everything is starting off just like it did last year."