AUBURN, Ala. — If message boards are any indication, Auburn fans weren't excited with the 2008 signing day class, although coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff expressed satisfaction.
Auburn's 2007 class ranked sixth nationally, but the 2008 version will slip to the late teens. Auburn entered Wednesday ranked 16th nationally by Rivals.com and 19th by Scouts.com.
“This has been an excellent year,” Tuberville said. “We evaluate not just athletic ability, and that's what most of the star rankings are. They're not looking at character and attitude. We put as much an effort to judge players on that as we do athletic ability.
“I look at players that can fit in what we do and how we do it. We do a tremendous amount of evaluating. It's a challenge to fight the media hype of a lot of guys. We're not going to sign anybody just because they're ranked real high.”
Several recruiting services, including Rivals and Scouts ranked Alabama first nationally and declared the Tide the winner of most key battles in the state, including signing wide receiver Julio Jones and linebacker Jerrell Harris.
However, Tuberville noted that the Tigers signed nine players in Alabama, the most since he's been at Auburn.
“I think it's an excellent group, not just of athletes, but students, guys that can come and make it academically and get a degree and play as a member of a team,” Tuberville said.
Most notable among the instate players are quarterback Barrett Trotter of Birmingham, defensive ends Jomarcus Savage of Huntsville and Cameron Henderson of Irondale and Central-Phenix City standout defensive back D'Antoine Hood.
The Tigers were rocked by several signing day disappointments, including the defection of Carver High standout wide receiver Jarmon Fortson to Florida State at the last minute. The Tigers saw that one coming, but went to sleep Tuesday night expecting running back Enrique Davis to sign, as well as South Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn, but both went elsewhere. Davis signed with Ole Miss and Quinn with North Carolina.
“Enrique was one of those deals . . . we changed our style of offense,” Tuberville said. “I think that was the main thing. He wanted to go somewhere and possibly be on a two-back team.”
Tuberville said he didn't think the change of both coordinators hurt recruiting, but it did create a change in recruiting philosophy, particularly on the offensive side.
“When you do that, you have to switch gears and change some ideas of who's scholarships you're going to offer to when you change in midstream like that,” Tuberville said. “It didn't really hurt us.”
Auburn's class breaks down to eight linemen, six cornerbacks, four wide receivers, three quarterbacks, three running backs, two tight ends and two linebackers.
Key to this year's signing class were defensive linemen, cornerbacks, quarterbacks and wide receivers and the Tigers stocked up on all those. Auburn lost interior linemen Josh Thompson and Pat Sims and end Quentin Groves, necessitating the signing of a big defensive line class.
Tuberville said he anticipated players like Freddie Smooth, who checks in at 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, to push for playing time, along with Savage and Andre Wadley, whom Tuberville compared to a bigger Groves. Raven Gray, a junior college signee who will miss spring practice because of a knee injury, is another player Tuberville said he expects to be an impact player.
The Tigers lost three defensive backs, so Tuberville said he expects at least two from this class to earn playing time.
“Now everybody is playing a lot of the four and five wide receiver sets,” Tuberville said. “Last year there were times when we played almost the entire game with five defensive backs on the field at a time. That was a big area of need for us.”
Look for junior college transfer quarterback Chris Todd, who enrolled in January to compete for the starting position in spring practice.
“We needed to broaden our horizons in terms of guys that could run this type of offense,” Tuberville said. “Chris Todd will make an immediate impact. He knows the offense. He's a big guy. He can throw it. He's got good touch on the ball.”