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McKenzie makes move at tight e

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McKenzie makes move at tight end

Former Davidson High star improving on pass-catching and should figure prominently in tight end rotation for Tigers

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Sports Reporter

AUBURN -- At Davidson High School, coaches drilled Gabe McKenzie in blocking technique. In games, McKenzie won battles against opponents who outweighed him by 50 pounds.

When he arrived at Auburn last year, McKenzie immediately turned heads: He was raw. He didn't have great hands or run great routes. But, boy, could he block.

"(Davidson) ran the football, and he knows how to run-block," said Auburn tight ends coach Steve Ensminger.

Now a redshirt freshman tight end for the Tigers, McKenzie said his high school experience made the adjustment to college considerably easier.

"It's all where I came from -- Davidson," McKenzie said. "I was blocking ends weighing 260, 270 pounds. So this is a walk in the park."

McKenzie said the last sentence with a smile and a bit of sarcasm, but his explosive blocking has never been questioned at the college level.

But now coaches say that McKenzie is becoming a complete tight end -- making good decisions, running solid routes and catching passes.

Ensminger said he considers McKenzie equal with redshirt freshman Tommy Trott. Senior Cole Bennett is the starter.

"Gabe's had a great camp," Ensminger said. "He's always been a very good run-blocker, and he's improved on that, which I'm very pleased with. But he's also improved on his route-running ability and catching the football."

Ensminger expects to employ a three-man rotation at tight end, although the details are still to be worked out.

"Cole's the senior, he's experienced, he's the leader," McKenzie said. "Me and Trott will get the reps that he doesn't get."

Ensminger said Bennett might play roughly half the snaps.

"They're all going to play," Ensminger said. "Cole can't play 75 plays. I'd like to play Cole between 35 and 40 plays, so I know Gabe will be getting in there some, and I know Tommy will, too."

Bennett spent last season sharing time with Cooper Wallace, while Trott and McKenzie took redshirts.

Trott and McKenzie both arrived as highly recruited signees. Trott played both sides of the ball at Trinity Presbyterian in Montgomery. McKenzie did the same thing at Davidson.

Trott drew raves for his soft hands, leading many to speculate that McKenzie might eventually find a home at another position. It hasn't happened.

"He's a tight end," Ensminger said. "It's a natural position for him. Obviously, he's a good enough athlete to play somewhere else. But we need him where he's at right now. He's happy there, and so are we."

McKenzie said he's spent the camp working on fundamentals and trying to complete the progress at his position that he began last year.

"I'm working on the stuff that I used to make mistakes on," McKenzie said. "I've learned to be calm as the plays go on."

McKenzie is also trying to prove he can catch the ball as well as he can knock defenders off it.

"I'm trying to be a complete tight end," he said. "You can't just come out here and block. If you can't catch and block, you're not a good tight end."

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