Tigers Open Fall Drills With Lively Practice

Coach Tommy Tuberville put his 2003 squad through the paces for the first time on Wednesday and afterward he talked about their performance and his thoughts on several open positions.

Auburn, Ala.--The 2003 football season officially got underway on Wednesday with a light but spirited two-hour practice on the new artificial surface practice field behind the athletic complex. Without the benefit of freshmen only practice this season, the first few days will be mostly about getting a look at the younger players and polishing up for the upperclassmen. Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville said following the workout that he spent most of the day just observing.

"I walked around and just watched most of the younger players," Tuberville said. "It was mostly on the offensive side today. It was good to see Bruce Edwards, a young guy that we feel like is going to be a heck of a football player for us, do some things and catch the football at wide receiver.

"We'll have a dilemma with Courtney Denson over the next few days, deciding whether we'll leave him at quarterback or move him to defensive back. That's a decision we'll make before Sunday, but we're going to give up until Sunday in that situation. We'll also look at tight ends. Cole Bennett is a guy we think is going to have a chance to play this year. We just want to make sure we're doing the right thing. The next few days we'll make a decision on that and how many reps he'll get."

Practicing in shorts and helmets for the first of five days of one-a-day practices, the team was sharp on both sides of the ball for a first practice session. Offensively, quarterback Jason Campbell was very impressive throwing the ball as well as getting the team to the line without delay. Running back Carnell Williams looked to be back to form as well, running without any problems and showing the burst that everyone has come to expect from him.

Tailback Carnell Williams follows guard Monreko Crittenden into the hole.

Defensively the focus was at the cornerback position where Junior Rosegreen was anchored because of the news that David Irons Jr. didn't qualify and must go back to junior college. With Rosegreen and Carlos Rogers at the corners, safeties Donnay Young and Roshard Gilyard manned the deep positions with Karibi Dede also getting the mix. Tuberville said settling the secondary is a key for his team heading into the season.

"We were counting on him being a corner," Tuberville said of Irons. "We need more depth there. Patrick Lee will have to play a bigger role. We'll have to make a decision on Courtney, if at all. He might stay, Courtney wants to play. We don't want to get too far down the road where he can't learn what's going on because he's a true freshman. We also want to give him the chance to play quarterback."

There was also a good sight to see on defense as linebacker Mayo Sowell returned to the practice field for hte first time since injuring his knee against Georgia last season. Back at middle linebacker after playing defensive end last season, he shared time with sophomore Kevis Burnam while backing up starter Dontarrious Thomas.

Mayo Sowell

Following almost two solid hours of work on offense and defense, including sessions of one-on-one with the wide receivers and defensive backs, the team broke for the day with Coach Eddie Gran keeping the special teams players on the field. While cornerback is a position of emphasis, the punting job is also one that will be very important to the team's success this season.

Coming out of the spring, redshirt freshman Michael Gibson held down the starting job after showing signs that he could be the punter for the Tigers, but a disappointing end to the session left some doubts going into the fall. Those doubts began to disappear on Wednesday with Gibson kicking the ball well and getting punts off quicker. It didn't seem to matter though as true freshman Kody Bliss stole the show. Booming punts with just a one-step drop, he averaged just over 45 yards in 10 punts during the special teams drills while adding some serious hang time.

Returning kicks on the first day were Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith, Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu, Carlos Rogers, Edwards and Pitts. Each will have an opportunity to win the job with Smith the odds-on favorite at punt returner and several in the running for kickoffs.

The Tigers return to practice Thursday morning at 10 a.m. on the intramural fields, providing the Auburn area doesn't have any more rain before that time. If the fields are still too wet the practice will move to the artificial surface once again. The practice will be open to the public.

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