AUBURN, Ala. – Emory Blake wanted to score touchdowns, not throw for them.
The Auburn receiver didn't try to be a quarterback like his father and longtime NFL passer Jeff Blake, who scored an average of one touchdown during each of his 14 pro seasons.
"He wanted to get into the end zone," Jeff Blake said. "I can't blame him."
Blake got that chance eight times last season and eventually emerged as one of Cam Newton's favorite targets. He figures to play an even bigger role for the defending national champions in 2011.
The other established receivers are gone, along with Newton. That leaves Blake and a group that caught seven balls among them last season trying to fill the void.
He brings the seasoning that comes from growing up around NFL locker rooms, practices and games and getting tutorials from a pro.
Blake also brings enough confidence that he doesn't back away from the bold assessment of receivers coach Trooper Taylor.
"He's one of the best receivers in the SEC because he can make plays, guys," Taylor said.
Blake thinks he can live up to that billing after two years behind Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery.
"I definitely do. I feel confident that I can," he said. "Playing a lot last year and making some of the plays that I did and coming back this year, I felt really confident on the field, and I feel like I can be one of the best receivers in the SEC."
Blake was the team's No. 3 receiver last season but caught 24 passes for 353 yards and four touchdowns over Auburn's final six games. He also had the longest play from scrimmage in school history with a 94-yard touchdown catch against Louisiana-Monroe.
By comparison, fellow returnees Quindarius Carr, Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton combined for four catches, and highly touted freshman Trovon Reed was redshirted due to injury problems.
That leaves Blake and a group of untested players to field passes from Barrett Trotter, Clint Moseley or incoming freshman Kiehl Frazier. It's similar to the situation Taylor faced two years ago, when Adams and Zachery went from five combined catches in 2008 to 86 the following season.
So Taylor spouts off cracks like "The talent is gone" and "The real players are gone" in practice and posted a less than glowing newspaper article on the receiver situation on his office wall.
"I want to see if they're going to react to that," Taylor said. "If you sit back and take something, you tolerate or accept it, you encourage it. What I want them to understand is that that's everyone else's perception. I talk to them about it every day. I want them to realize that."
The message hardly seems necessary for Blake, who arrived on campus two years ago seeming mature and poised off the field for an 18-year-old freshman. That's no coincidence, his father says.
"He's been there, done that," Jeff Blake said. "It's like he was in the pros and had to go back to college almost."
After all, the younger Blake grew up around NFL locker rooms, practices and games. His father played for seven NFL teams from 1992-2005 and passed for much of his 21,711 career yards with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Taylor first noticed him a decade ago when he was coaching with Tulane and Jeff Blake played for the New Orleans Saints, but only because his son played rec league ball at the same time.
Blake was a receiver at Stephen F. Austin High School in Texas but started out as a running back in Pop Warner, and idolized famous runners Barry Sanders and Jerome Bettis.
"He actually cried when Barry retired," Jeff Blake said. "Then he started wearing a Jerome Bettis jersey."
He even had a picture hanging in his room with his father, himself and Bettis, along with another of the younger Blake with NFL quarterbacks Steve McNair and Daunte Culpepper.
Those were hardly the biggest benefits of growing up the son of an NFL quarterback. Jeff Blake retired after his son's ninth-grade season, and that's when the fun games of catch also became route-running tutorial sessions on how to read and react to different types of coverages and other finer points of football.
That's when it became, "Hey man, I'm going to hit you, run the post, run the quick out."
"He grew up in a football family," Taylor said. "His mom can tell you coverages and routes."
Now, Blake is working at all four of Auburn's receiver spots, and is the leading candidate to replace fill Adams' role.
"That's very exciting because that means I'm going to get the ball in my hands more," Blake said.
And maybe score more touchdowns.