Tigers Make Changes Looking For Depth Up Front

Sophomore Steven Ross talks about his new double-duty role with the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Following a less than impressive performance by the second team offensive line in Saturday's scrimmage and injury problems for both Taylor Bourgeois and Rich Trucks, it was inevitable that some position moves would take place to help alleviate the problems. Those came on Sunday as both Dexter Murphy and Steven Ross took on a new role in practice. Murphy saw action at offensive guard and Ross split time at tight end and offensive tackle.

While Murphy's move may get the most talk in the coming days, Ross' work at tackle may very well be the most important news for the Tigers as they head into the August 30th season opener with Southern Cal. Recruited as an offensive linemen and working at tackle, guard and center for the better part of two seasons, Ross was moved to tight end in the spring and has done well at his new position.

Still, the need for an offensive linemen with experience in the system and the ability to get the job done meant moving Ross back to tackle part-time on Sunday. Ready to do whatever is needed to help the team, Ross said it really wasn't a tough move back and he picked up things pretty quickly again.

"I got moved to help out at offensive line today," Ross said. "I just have to be ready to do whatever they ask me to do. Because I've done both I feel pretty comfortable with both. I just have to get back into the swing of the offensive line.

"Some of the blocking stuff I've kind of forgotten a little bit, but it's already starting to come back some in today's practice. A little bit more mental work and I'll be back up to speed with the offensive line stuff and I'll try to keep up with the offensive line stuff at the same time.

"I've been told that I'll have to have an extra jersey on the sidelines for the games in case they need me to play one or the other," Ross added. "That's what they are asking me to do right now because we've had a bunch of injuries on the offensive line. We just need somebody to fill the spots. We're just kind of thin right now. I'm just kind of helping out where they ask me to."

Steven Ross at an earlier fall practice.

First and foremost, Ross' job is still to work at tight end and he's been one of the most surprising players of the fall camp after coming on at the end of spring practice. An excellent athlete for his size and with surprisingly good hands, Ross said the tight ends as a whole were okay in Saturday's scrimmage, but need a lot of improvement in the next 13 days to be ready for the season.

"As a group I felt like the effort was pretty good," Ross said. "The first half of the play was pretty good. We have to get better at finishing blocks. The pass catching we need to improve a little bit. There were a couple of balls thrown to us that we need to catch. We just need to keep getting better.

"The most noticeable thing that needs improvement is the blocking, just finishing the plays. We were getting a good strike the first couple of steps off the ball then we would fall off blocks. We have to keep working hard, get better and finish plays."

Sunday's practice also saw the return of several players on the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers Dontarrious Thomas and Kevis Burnam as well as noseguard Josh Thompson all took part in parts of the non-contact practice. Focusing on correcting mistakes from Saturday's scrimmage, the Tigers practiced in shorts for just under two hours. Coach Tommy Tuberville said the team needed a day like this to see where they stand following the scrimmage.

"We found out where we're at yesterday," Tuberville said. "We've got a long ways to go to be a good football team. We made a lot of mistakes. That's a typical Saturday scrimmage during the middle of two-a-days. We made a lot of mistakes and we've got a level to where we know where we're at. Now we know how much we have to improve.

"We have to get some people back," he added. "We're starting to get a few people back. Basically we're out of two-a-days. We will practice in the mornings the next two days. Mostly the work will be done in the afternoons."

After watching Saturday's scrimmage on film, Tuberville praised the play of linebacker Karlos Dansby, cornerback Carlos Rogers and the entire secondary, and also the defensive line. Showing that the depth could pay off this season when they went into the game, the second and third team defenders made the offense pay in the scrimmage.

"That was the whole key to our offense," Tuberville said. "Offensively, we don't have the depth. We don't play as many people as they do, but our execution wasn't there. Our timing was off and guys were dropping balls and missing blocks. It just wasn't a very good day overall. That's the reason you practice. You practice to get better."

Tuberville said the Tigers will practice twice on Monday at 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. He also said there is a chance of one final scrimmage on Tuesday, but that won't be known until the injury report is updated on that day. Wednesday the team is scheduled to receive its first day off in 13 days and they will resume practices on Thursday. That will begin game preparations for USC and a two-deep depth chart will be released at that time. Both Monday's and Tuesday's practices will be open to the public with the rest of the week yet to be determined.

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