Tuberville defends Tigers’ 2008 class

AUBURN — Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville passionately defended his incoming recruiting class during a call-in appearance on a local radio show Wednesday.

“I know we get ridiculed when we come up supposedly short on anything. We didn’t come up short on recruiting. This group is going to be a heck of a class,” he said during an interview with WANI-AM 1400 in Auburn. “I know that Alabama had a good recruiting class in-state this year. We’ve dominated pretty much the last six or seven years.”

Auburn’s class was ranked in the top 20 nationally by most major recruiting services, but the Tigers missed out on several high-profile prospects in Alabama and a handful of players who announced their decisions on signing day.

“We’re going to have those years where kids grow up Alabama fans, but last year we had four or five that grew up Auburn fans,” Tuberville said. “That’s what you go through when you have two teams in the state.”

Tuberville also defended his staff’s recruiting philosophy.

“The best thing our coaches have done in the 10 years they’ve been at Auburn is not recruiting, but evaluation,” he said. “There’s a lot of these four- or five-star (players) that we won’t even touch, because No. 1, we can’t get them in school, and No. 2, they don’t fit what we want to do in terms of attitude and personality and academics. If we just went after only the athletic ability, we’d end up with 10 guys on scholarship at the end of four years.”

Tuberville also confirmed that two players could have new homes in Auburn’s 2008 defense. Junior Aairon Savage is being moved from safety to cornerback to help the Tigers shore up depth in the secondary.

Defensive lineman Sen’Derrick Marks, who moved outside last season, could move back to tackle in 2008. Marks, a Prichard native and former Vigor High standout, had a huge freshman year while working almost exclusively as a tackle in 2006.

Tuberville said the secondary switch will help Savage avoid injuries.

“The problem Aairon was having was that he was taking on guys like (Auburn running back) Ben Tate from the safety position, and he’s not built to play that physical type of safety position,” Tuberville said. “He gets beat up. I told him we’re going to move him to corner so we can keep him healthy for an entire season.”

Savage would likely be bracketed with Jerraud Powers at cornerback, while Mobile native Mike McNeil could have a chance to join Zac Etheridge as a starting safety.

“We’ve got enough safeties,” Tuberville said. “I think (Savage) will give us that extra guy at corner to help us when we have to play nickel and dime defenses.”

In other news, Tuberville said:

– Former Auburn defensive tackle Pat Sims wasn’t ready for the NFL. Sims left after the 2007 season with one year of college eligibility remaining.

“He had a good season this year,” Tuberville said. “He needed to come back. He feels like he can make the NFL, and he probably can. It’s just going to take him a while.”

– Prep school standout Jermaine Johnson will start working at right tackle, where sophomore Ryan Pugh is currently No. 1 on the depth chart. Sophomore Lee Ziemba will move to left tackle now that Auburn has right-handed quarterbacks.

Pugh will also be the team’s backup center, and he’s considered the heir apparent to senior center Jason Bosley.

“We’ve got a lot of possibilities,” Tuberville said. “(Offensive line coach) Hugh Nall’s got a big smile on his face as he walks around the office.”

– SEC coaches will meet with commissioner Mike Slive in Birmingham today.

It will be an interesting reunion for Tuberville and new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, who was nearly hired at Auburn during a failed attempt to fire Tuberville after the 2003 season.

“Of course, I know Bobby,” Tuberville said. “I’ve talked to him since our debacle five or six years ago, so there’s no problem there.”

So what will coaches discuss?

“There’ll be some talk and some arguments about recruiting and what happened and how it happened — but that’s the reason we have these meetings. We get all together and hash it out.”

– PLAYERS DEPART: Four reserves will not return to the team in 2008, Inside the Auburn Tigers reported Wednesday. Offensive tackle Antwoin Daniels, safety Lorenzo Ferguson, defensive lineman Bryant Miller and safety Blake Shrader played sparingly in 2007 and were not expected to compete for starting jobs this spring.

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