RUNNING BACKKENNY IRONS COULD CARRY THE TIGERS TO THE TOP-IF A REVAMPED DEFENSE KEEPS UPITS END
2005 RECORD 9-3(7-1 in SEC West)
KEY RETURNEES QBBrandon Cox (Jr.) Threw for 2,324 yards and 15 TDs last year OT King Dunlap(Jr.) The 6'8" 318-pounder has loads of talent but little experience DEQuentin Groves (Jr.) Finished with six sacks in '05
BIG MAN ON CAMPUSAfter starting 36 games at free safety, 6'3", 221-pound senior Will Herringis moving to strongside linebacker. A sure tackler and an old hand at providingrun support, Herring will beef up a position at which the Tigers are short onexperience.
He may be aHeisman Trophy candidate now, but only two years ago Kenny Irons was a transferpulling duty as a tackling dummy on the Tigers' scout team. As a senior atDacula (Ga.) High in 2002 he chose not to sign with Auburn because its depthchart included Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams, who both went on to becometop five NFL draft picks. So Irons instead went to South Carolina-which he nowcalls the biggest mistake of his life. He and coach Lou Holtz feuded throughoutIrons's sophomore year while he backed up freshman tailback Demetrius Summers,a native son from Lexington. "Hometown heroes are hard to beat," saysIrons. "When I transferred, I told myself I would do whatever it took, evenif that meant getting banged on for a whole year."
Irons arrived atAuburn in January 2004 and impressed the coaching staff with his dogged work inpractice. "I was trying to make him feel better and get him to laugh,"says his older brother, David, a cornerback who transferred to Auburn at thesame time from Butler (Kans.) Community College. "Well, he didn't alwayslaugh. That was a sign to me that he was really serious."
Fast andphysical, the 5'11", 200-pound Irons could carry Auburn to lofty heightsthis fall. He averaged 21.3 carries and earned unanimous All-SEC honors lastseason, when he ran for 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns. With the Tigers breakingin a new receiving corps, coach Tommy Tuberville spent the spring emphasizingto his team the need for a dominant running game. The offense will need anotherdimension, of course, which explains why Irons-who caught only 14 passes lastyear-spent the off-season sharpening his receiving skills. "My job,"says quarterback Brandon Cox, "will be to get him the ball however Ican."
Behind Cox andIrons, Auburn will have no problem scoring points, which should give thedefense time to develop under new coordinator Will Muschamp, a former LSU andMiami Dolphins assistant. If the Tigers can upset No. 4 LSU in Auburn on Sept.16, they will make a strong run at an undefeated season. "We're young, butwe have a great team," Irons says. "I think we're going to shock a lotof people this year."