Despite the less than perfect conditions, the Tigers had a spirited two-hour workout and offensive coordinator Al Borges said he was happy with the way the team responded on the day.
“We actually didn’t do too bad with the conditions,” Borges said. “Whenever you get a bad day like that the players go through the motions, but I didn’t think we did that. It wasn’t upbeat, but it was actually pretty productive. We put a bunch of new stuff in. We put in our empty stuff (no backs in the backfield) and some of our bunches. It was actually fairly good.”
Much of the talk on the offensive side of the ball continues to center around the play of the quarterbacks. While Brandon Cox has firmly cemented himself as the first-teamer heading into the fall, the backup spot continues to be wide open with Calvin Booker, Blake Field and Dustin Goodwin all in the running.
Wednesday may have been the day for Field to take a step forward though as he played through pain and didn’t miss a rep in practice despite dislocating his shoulder in Saturday’s scrimmage while trying to tackle Steve Gandy on an interception return. Borges said displays like that and like Cox playing with a dislocated finger show a competitiveness that is good for the job.
“He’s having trouble lifting his left arm,” Borges said of Field. “One because of pain and two because it’s harnessed in there pretty good. Him and then Brandon Cox dislocating his finger and coming back and continuing to play sends a message to the rest of the team on how bad they want to play. I think that’s huge.”
Tez Doolittle beats center Jonathan Palmer. Doolittle is playing his best football since arriving at Auburn.
On the defensive side of the ball there was a familiar face back on the practice field as safety Tony Bell practiced for the first time this spring after being held out of workouts because of academic concerns. Coach Tommy Tuberville said that Bell’s punishment is over and he’s anxious to see him back at work in the secondary and fighting for playing time in an improving group.
“I watched our defensive backs today,” Tuberville said. “Tony Bell was back. We got him back out because he’s caught up academically. It was good to see him back out there running around. He’s going to behind, but we’ll be able to get a few days out of him and get the rust off.
“I thought David Irons really looked well today doing what we asked him to do. He did good last week in the scrimmage. It was the first contact he’s had since two-a-days. We’re pleased with his progress. I watched the DBs and the running backs mostly and I those areas are much improved from where we started three weeks ago." Irons is well ahead of schedule in his recovery from ACL surgery.
The running back spot is led by junior Tre Smith, who is the most experience of the three backs vying for playing time at tailback for the Tigers. Showing good hands and making people miss is the name of Smith’s game, but Tuberville said they’re counting on everybody to run the ball and also help out in any way possible to help Auburn win.
“I really like the way our running backs are getting better,” Tuberville said. “I think that Kenny Irons and Carl (Carl Stewart) are two guys that are going to have to play a big role for us next year in pass protection and blocking for Tre sometimes. I think they’re really catching on mentally. Carl is a lot farther along, obviously, but Kenny is not far behind.”
Tuberville takes time out of practice to pose with the Marinakis family from Gardendale. They were guests of the Tigers on Wednesday. Father Dimitri, mother Ruth and kids Nicholas and Marika all seemed to have a good time watching practice and talking with several coaches.
Auburn’s injury situation continues to deplete the defense as both Tommy Jackson and Josh Thompson sat out Wednesday’s practice and Tuberville said neither would be available for the rest of spring practice with minor knee injuries. Starting linebackers Travis Williams, Antarrious Williams and Kevin Sears will all miss the rest of the spring as well.
In addition to those names, Tuberville said that several starters on defense would receive very little work in Saturday’s A-Day game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Among the ones singled out were defensive ends Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves. That leaves a horde of young players to hold down the fort for the defense against an improving offense.
Also missing from Thursday’s practice was offensive guard Tim Duckworth, who had a final to take and was excused. Linebacker Karibi Dede and tight end Cooper Wallace also missed with a touch of the virus that has been going around for nearly two weeks.
In Duckworth’s place at guard was Leon Hart and he had a solid day as he continues to improve while settling in at the position. Across the way both Tez Doolittle and Pat Sims showed life while getting more reps on the interior of the defense. Doolittle is running with the first-team at noseguard and appears to be playing as well as he has since arriving at Auburn.
Wednesday's practice marked the return of Kyle Derozan, who spent much of the winter playing basketball for the Tigers. Derozan worked at tight end last fall, but lined up at defensive end, a position he played earlier in his AU career.
Continuing the flood of top prospects to the Auburn campus, one of the top linebackers for the Class of 2006 was on hand to watch the Tigers practice. Big Toryan Smith (Video of Smith on the link) from Rome, Ga., High took in the practice along with his father and a coach from Rome. Smith is a 6-0, 240 middle linebacker that can run and hits a ton. He is the son of a former Georgia center that was three years behind Hugh Nall for the Bulldogs. Smith is considered one of Georgia’s top players for next season.
The Tigers will practice on Thursday and take Friday off before Saturday’s A-Day game. The game is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. and will be the 13th practice of the spring for Auburn. There will be practices on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week before the Tigers put a wrap on the spring.