The Tigers spend the first hour of the session doing 11 on 11 work as the offense continued to move the football well against the defense, although the defensive unit had more good plays than in previous contact work this spring. Tuberville changed the schedule and started it nearly an hour earlier than normal so players who had Thursday afternoon labs could take part in the team drills before checking out of practice early to take care of academic business.
Tailback Carnell Williams looked particularly impressive running the football inside and quarterback Jason Campbell continued his strong passing performance that has been a theme throughout the spring.
Tuberville says even though the offense has generally outperformed the defense this spring, that doesn't necessarily mean he is displeased with his defenders. "We have been handcuffing them some this spring by playing straight up on defense for the most part," he says. "We won't be playing that way this fall."
With the defense mainly sticking to basic formations with little blitzing or few stunts by the linemen, the offense has generally had success moving the ball on the ground and in the air. "The offensive line is making some progress," says Tuberville, who notes that some of the young linemen like guard/tackle Jonathan Palmer, Marcus McNeill and guard Troy Reddick are making a lot of progress. All three were signed last year.
Offensive line coach Hugh Nall, who is also the offensive coordinator, says that with Rich Trucks out for the rest of the spring with a hernia problem, he decided to look at Palmer as a weakside tackle behind Mark Pera. "He doesn't always know who to block, but he blocks people the right way when he gets to a defender so you have to like that," Nall notes.
"I not real comfortable at weak tackle yet," Palmer admits. "I am trying to learn the assignments, but I feel like I am making some progress."
Tuberville notes that Palmer redshirted last year while his high school teammate McNeill was in the spotlight as one of the top freshmen in the SEC. "Jonathan has really had a good spring and I am proud of his competitiveness," Tuberville says. "Here his best friend comes in and starts and he redshirts. Now the advantage will be with Jonathan because he has got four more years. It is the first spring for both of them.
"All of the freshmen we have brought in here normally they kind of feel their way through spring practice, but this has been a special group from top to bottom. Courtney Taylor, Lee Guess, Will Herring and all of those guys have really made improvement, but that is what spring is for. That is a tribute to the upperclassmen. They have really pushed these guys because they know they are going to have to have these younger guys to play well for us to be successful."
Tuberville and Nall watched the offense have success with the passing game on Wednesday and the group even got a big passing play from tailback Ronnie Brown. The left-hander, a former Major League baseball draft pick, has a strong arm. On a toss sweep he pulled up before he got the line of scrimmage and lofted a long touchdown pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Courtney Taylor, who got behind the defense.
"Courtney is going to be a good player," says Tuberville. "All of the receivers we signed last year are growing up and coming on. Lee Guess, a player we redshirted, is showing us some good things. Ben Obomanu and Devin Aromashodu are getting stronger and improving in all areas. Anthony Mix is coming along, too, and he can be a big part of our offense this season." Obomanu was shaken up at Wednesday's practice, but returned to action later in the session.
For the first time during spring training, the Tigers had spring-like weather to practice in for what was their last practice of the month. The Tigers will work out again on on Tuesday April 1, then have a half-scrimmage the next day and a light practice the day after that in preparation for the April 5th A-Day Game. That will kick off at 1 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium and the coach says he is hoping for nice weather and a big crowd to check out what has the potential to be Tuberville's strongest team.
"We want everybody to come back, wear their orange, be around Auburn and have a fun day," the coach says.
Tuberville says practice No. 11 of 15 spring workouts was one of the best. "I was a bit surprised," he notes. "Normally right before you go home for spring break, guys have got their minds on something else, but I think that shows the attitude of this team, especially our seniors. Guys practiced hard and we had a lot of teamwork. We had such a good practice yesterday, we decided to come back and do a lot more 11-on-11, especially for the quarterbacks and offensive line and the secondary. The guys competed hard and looked good. I thought the defense was much better than it was yesterday. It looked like we had another step in our legs."
After the teamwork during the first half of the practice, the position coaches drilled their players on individual skills. "We made a lot of improvement in the last 11 practices," Tuberville says, who adds, "It is kind of winding down, but it has been a long time since these guys have had a little time off. They didn't have much at Christmas because of the bowl game, and it has been a long time since August so it is a much-deserved break for the players and coaches. The coaches have worked really hard, and we will get these guys out of here and let them recharge their batteries for the last month of school."