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SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2007
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AUBURN A-DAY NOTEBOOK

Billings steps up in A-Day, practice

AUBURN — Auburn’s Rod Smith has turned into starting quarterback Brandon Cox’s go-to receiver now that Courtney Taylor has used up his eligibility.

But according to coaches, Smith hasn’t made the most progress this spring.

That designation goes to Montez Billings.

On Saturday, in Auburn’s A-Day spring game, it showed. Billings caught four passes for a team-high 70 yards and a touchdown.

On his touchdown, Billings ran a slant route across the middle, escaped a tackle and turned upfield and into the end zone for a score.

“Today obviously he took a step forward,” Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said. “This is the best day that he’s had since he’s been here.”

Tuberville isn’t alone in his assessment that Billings has come on strong this spring —Cox agreed.

“He’s one of the young guys who stepped up,” Cox said. “He’s pushing for a starting job now. He came out today and had a good day.”

Billings started with the first-team offense.

Kicking roller coaster

Auburn’s kickers haven’t had the best of springs. Some days have been good, others bad. But never have they all been consistently one or the other.

On Saturday, nothing changed. The first two punts traveled fewer than 40 yards, and Ross Gornall missed the first extra point wide right. Gornall recovered to convert the rest of his tries, and the punters ended up averaging 37.6 yards a punt with a long of 59 by Joey Dunbar.

“This wasn’t a great day for kickers and punters because of the weather, the wind blowing,” Tuberville said. “We’ve got to be a lot better than what we were.”

Goggans grabs MVP

Redshirt freshman Michael Goggans earned the defensive MVP honors after finishing with five total tackles and a quarterback hurry. Goggans moved to defensive end this spring after Auburn recruited him as a tight end.

“I feel like I improved a whole lot,” Goggans said. “I moved to D-end and was kind of shaky about it. But since I’ve been over there, I’ve gotten my technique down, and I’m making a good push.”

Safety Eric Brock pointed to Goggans as one of the few bright spots on defense in A-Day.

Offensive line shines

One of the big questions heading into A-Day was how the offensive line would do after replacing four starters from 2006. The answer provided Saturday is one that coaches and players alike will enjoy.

The offenses combined for 130 rushing yards and 440 yards passing. But the big number was Cox’s 286 passing yards.

“It makes us look good,” offensive tackle King Dunlap said. “It means we gave him time to throw the ball and get the ball down the field to receivers who made plays.”

Added offensive coordinator Al Borges: “They did a nice job. Protection was excellent. We had some room to run. Pretty solid.”

Participation no-go

Nine players missed A-Day with various ailments, and nearly all are expected to contribute a good bit in the fall.

Linebacker Steve Gandy (neck), offensive lineman Oscar Gonzalez (knee), receiver Tim Hawthorne (car accident), linebacker Merrill Johnson (calf), defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (ankle) and defensive tackle Jermarcus Ricks (knee) missed with known injuries. Offensive lineman Nathan Farrow, defensive back Lorenzo Ferguson and receiver Neil Padgett sat out for unknown reasons.

Spring awards plentiful

With spring practice all but over (only one practice remains), the Tigers’ coaches named the spring practice award winners.

Jason Bosley (offense) and Josh Thompson (defense) won the Eddie Welch Attitude & Effort award. Cole Bennett (offense) and Quentin Groves (defense) took the Pat Dye Leadership award. Rod Smith was the most improved offensive skill player, and Andrew McCain was the most improved offensive lineman.

Additionally, Mike Blanc took home the most improved defensive lineman. Patrick Lee was the most improved defensive back, and Danny Perry won the offseason conditioning award.

In the classroom, the grade-point-average awards went to Rick Cherry (top freshman GPA), Groves (most improved GPA) and Cole Bennett (top overall GPA).

Tigers get 2nd recruit

Auburn picked up commitment No. 2 for 2008 on Saturday when Pace, Fla., tight end Vance Smith pledged to play for the Tigers.

According to Rivals.com, Smith (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) also was recruited by Ole Miss, LSU, Clemson and Florida. In 2006, he caught 11 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns.

Bradley Handwerger,
Daily Sports Writer

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