Unlike in the past when the Tigers would be dressed in shorts and shoulder pads following a rough scrimmage, Coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff didn't hold back in Thursday's practice as the offense and defense went toe-to-toe for much of the day. This time around the offense did more than hold its own by winning the majority of the contests during the inside drill to finish the spring practice sessions on a good note.
"We needed some practice on offense after yesterday's practice," Tuberville said. "We didn't get a lot done and the defense played about as good as we've played all spring, they look like they turned it up a notch. We didn't block very well, didn't run very well and didn't throw very well. That's not very good offensively. Today we came out to do a little bit more than we planned. We went back to the drawing board and worked on our timing on offense. We got their attention knowing that we have to get better.
"Today was a good day," Tuberville added. "We hit a little bit. We worked on the things that we had problems with yesterday on offense. Hopefully, we've corrected a few of those. Now we'll give them a day off and get ready for Saturday's scrimmage."
As usual, the most intense session of the practice occured during the one-on-one drills when the offensive and defensive line work on pass rushing techniques. Offensively, Marcus McNeill and Monreko Crittenden both continued their good work up front along with second teamers Nate French and Jonathan Palmer. Defensively, the young guys didn't have a very good day with the exception of Wayne Dickens, who consistently beat Thomas Anderson to get to the quarterback.
Spring practice can sometimes be a frustrating thing for coaching staffs as they try to keep the veterans into the practice while juggling as much playing time for the veterans as is humanly possible. That hasn't been a problem this spring for Tuberville and his staff as linebackers Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby have led the cheers for the second and third team defense all spring and made it known that this is a team in every sense of the word.
"Experience helps your leadership, that's what it helps," Tuberville said. "When your older guys have confidence in what they are doing they are able to lead, pat guys on the back and encourage them. That's what that is all about. We've had a lot of that this spring. It's good because you can walk around and hear guys suggesting small things. We've got a lot of coaches out there, which is good. You have a lot of guys trying to help and encourage. That's what you get from an experienced group of guys going through spring practice.
Linebackers Lemarcus Rowell (56) and Travis Williams (51) drop back into coverage while Anthony Mix runs his route against the defense. In the background Coach Tommy Tuberville looks on from the tower.
Building depth has been the focus for the coaching staff all spring and that goal lasted until the final practice before Saturday. Working Travis Williams, Lemarcus Rowell, Kevin Sears and Derrick Graves at linebacker and Karibi Dede, Will Herring and Andrew Letts, the defense got a particularly long look from Coach Gene Chizik as the Tigers worked on recognition drills with the linebackers and secondary. The drill is designed to see how a player reacts in a game situation, but it allows the coaching staff to view the player without the offensive and defensive lines clogging the action. It was drills like that that gave the coaches what they wanted to see out of the final day of practice heading into Saturday.
"It's a little bit easier for one reason, we are running the same offense and defense and a lot of the older guys were able to not do as much," Tuberville said of how smoothly things have gone this spring. "You were able to work the younger guys and watch them improve. A guy like Travis Williams for instance, from this time last year to now he's shown tremendous improvement as has Lemarcus Rowell. Those two guys in particular, they have made a lot of improvement.
"The little things are what we worked on, especially with the younger players. What you want to do is bring everybody to another level, not just your first team group. You want to get your backups up to another level where you're a better football team overall and not just 20 guys."
One casualty of the spring happened in Wednesday's scrimmage. Sophomore defensive end Tony McClain was lost for the spring with a broken bone in his ankle. He underwent surgery Thursday with Dr. James Andrews and they placed a plate in his ankle to help the healing process. He is expected to be back to full speed in plenty of time for two-a-days in August.
A more pressing need will be at the center position for Saturday's A-Day game. With starter Danny Lindsey out of contact for the spring after having surgery, Jeremy Ingle had firmly established himself as the second-team center with redshirt freshman Will Ward behind him. That changed on Thursday when Ingle went down with a broken bone in his ankle, forcing Ward up to the starting role with walk-on Joe Cope the backup. Ingle should be able to recover in time to be ready for preseason practice in August.
Saturday will be a good test of how much better Auburn's depth is when the Tigers kick off the A-Day game at 1 p.m. inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. The first team offense will challenge the first team defense, etc. and several players (such as Carnell Williams, Spencer Johnson, Demarco McNeil) are expected to see limited action in the game.