Auburn, Ala.--Without the benefit of freshman only practices this fall, the Auburn Tigers have done things a little differently to open camp for the 2003 season. Using the time on the field for a brush up of what was done last year and last spring, the veterans are in a polishing mode and trying to perfect technique and steps before getting into work for USC.
That’s not the case with the young guys. Working hard to try to learn the defensive and offensive system while also trying to catch the eye of the coaching staff, the newcomers have been put into a tough spot. While the need at defensive back has been well established, one area that Coach Tommy Tuberville said the coaches are paying special attention to is on the offensive line.
Having four established starters back in Danny Lindsey, Monreko Crittenden, Mark Pera and Marcus McNeill has enabled Coach Hugh Nall to get a closer look at some of the newcomers and redshirt freshmen in the group. Hoping to find a solid second unit before the first game, Tuberville said these first few days have been beneficial for the coaches to see guys they wouldn’t normally have a chance to evaluate against veteran players.
Danny Lindsey (68) breaks the huddle at Friday's practice.
“It’s better than it’s been,” Tuberville said of the offensive line depth. “We would love to get Thomas Anderson back, but he probably won’t be back for another 7-10 days (Mononucleosis). It’s going to put him behind for the first couple of games. If we can stay healthy we’ll be fine. We’re going to have a good solid two-deep. We’ll be able to play more players than we have in the past.
“We’ve never had the luxury of having a Taylor Bourgeois that could play behind a Mark Pera or Marcus McNeill or be a starter. We could have Danny Lindsey going to play guard and Jeremy Ingle playing center, which we could possibly do. We’ve got some scenarios.”
No matter what happens, you can expect at least one of the young guys to get a serious look at earning a second team role. The leading candidates to fill that void are redshirt freshman Jonathan Palmer and true freshman Jarrod Britt at guard. Both have outstanding physical ability and can get the job done. Lindsey said he’s been impressed by all of the young players and how hard they have worked to this point.
“Some of the younger guys came in early and the older guys we tried to work with them to learn the basic stuff,” Lindsey said following Friday’s practice. “They’ve come around really quick, quicker than we thought they would. Jarrod Britt, today you could see he’s got a little bit of a mean streak in him. Coach Nall really likes that. Him and King (King Dunlap) are both going to be good players.”
Working on every phase of the game in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts, the Tigers practice for nearly two and a half hours on a steamy August morning. For the first time the team worked out on real grass, practicing on the intramural fields instead of the new artificial surface. Getting a lot of 11-on-11 work in and also some inside running drills, Tuberville said Friday was a good day for his team.
“It was good to get on the grass,” Tuberville said. “We put our shoulder pads on and had some good contact work. Obviously there were a lot of mistakes, but we’re able to work three and sometimes four groups so fatigue and the heat is really not a big factor. We’re trying to evaluate as many of the freshmen as we can as quick as we can. We’re trying to see if we can get anybody to move up and help us.”
Early going in the practice the offense seemed to hold the upper hand, running at will during inside drills that feature everyone but the wide receivers on offense against all but the cornerbacks on defense. Both Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams had big runs in the drill that wasn’t full speed, but very physical up front.
Following some early success, the offense was stymied much of the day by the defense as Demarco McNeil, Spencer Johnson and co. more than held their own in full team work, both in the passing and running department. One of the big playmakers of the day for the offense was tight end Anthony Mix, who caught several deep seam passes and turned the ball upfield for big gains. Also having a good day was second team quarterback Josh Sullivan, who seemed more poised in the pocket than any of the other backups.
Josh Sullivan is shown at Friday's practice with senior offensive tackle Mark Pera (69) in the background.
“Our quarterbacks are throwing the ball real good,” Tuberville said of the entire group. “It’s good to see them come out and start off on a good pace. This morning we started having more inside run drills and play-action drills with our quarterbacks trying to get in that mode until we can work on our assignments.”
Defensively, Donnay Young had the best day of any of the defensive backs with several nice breakups in the secondary and an interception of a Jason Campbell pass that he returned for a touchdown. Along with Roshard Gilyard, Young comprises the starting duo of safeties for the Tigers at this moment with Junior Rosegreen currently at cornerback. Also getting action and looking solid was Andrew Letts, who has become one of the more physical defensive backs for Auburn.
For the first time this fall the Tigers put the kicking game into live situations and the rust showed in both the punting and field goal department. While newcomers John Vaughn and Kody Bliss have demonstrated talent worthy of consideration for both jobs, it was the veterans that had the upper hand on Friday. That was particularly the case in the punting department as Michael Gibson boomed punt after punt, with his average somewhere in the 45-yard range. Tuberville said that things would get better in the days to come.
“The kicking game was a little bit rusty,” Tuberville said. “Philip (Philip Yost) did good. John Vaughn had a couple blocked. His first field goal as an Auburn Tiger got stuffed (McNeil), it wasn’t his fault we just missed a blocking assignment. I see a lot of good things from both of those guys. You can tell they have worked real hard. This week for the next few days we’ll really push special teams and then we’ll get into a groove during two-a-days of working one phase each practice.”
Putting on the shoulder pads made for a more intense practice as several licks were passes and tempers flared a few times. Britt, a tenacious football player on the field, cracked back to pancake Kevin Sears early in the practice in a running drill and later he blocked Tim Duckworth to the echo of the whistle and beyond. Also, wide receiver Ben Obomanu and defensive back Eric Brock tangled with a brief scuffle before being broke up by the coaches.
Deciding that he needed to look elsewhere, linebacker Mike Sherill has left the team and will transfer to a school closer to his Miami home. After going home this summer to deal with personal and family problems, Sherill decided that a return to Auburn wasn’t in the cards for him.
Defensive linemen like Bret Eddins (94) worked on the blocking sled at Friday's practice.
While he is practicing and looking good at defensive end, Stanley McClover is still waiting to hear back from the NCAA Clearinghouse on one class that was questioned in his transcript. Tuberville said the information has been sent to the NCAA and they are now waiting on a committee to rule on McClover’s course and whether it will be allowed. Word should come by early next week at the latest. That won’t be the case with Rudy Taylor, who is back at home following the failure of his old high school to send him transcripts to the Clearinghouse. The problem is the school is closed and the records are nowhere to be found at the moment. He likely won’t return until January at the earliest because of the mixup.
The Tigers will practice Saturday at 9:30 a.m. on the intramural fields before heading to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum for Fan Day beginning at 1 p.m. The senior class along with Coach Tuberville will be on the floor of the coliseum while everyone else will be stationed at tables along the concourse area.