While the work on USC was a big story, perhaps the biggest story of the day was the return of several injured players to the practice field on Thursday. Wide receiver Silas Daniels and defensive end Kyle Derozan both practiced and looked to be moving good, but the player that caught Tuberville's attention was linebacker Dontarrious Thomas. One of the leaders of the defense, Thomas' return signals a true beginning of the season for Tuberville and the team as a whole.
"Dontarrious Thomas was back on the field and he was moving good," Tuberville said. "It was good to see him back out there practicing. Silas Daniels also made some good catches. It was good to see him back. You can tell it's getting closer to game time, guys are starting to get back on the field. A sense of urgency is hitting these guys. They know if they are going to play they have to get the game plan down by Sunday."
He's excited," Tuberville said of Thomas. "He collared Jeris McIntyre on a screen pass one time. I don't think Jeris was real fired up about it. It's getting real close to game time. Tempers are flaring."
The defensive line was also bolstered with the return of both Wayne Dickens and T.J. Jackson to practice after both suffered minor injuries early in the week. Dickens has been bothered by what amounts to turf toe, but Tuberville said he was moving good in practice and should be fine. Jackson strained a groin in Tuesday's practice, but was back on the field and should also be ready to face the Trojans.
Offensive lineman Thomas Anderson and wide receiver Lee Guess also were back in the mix, hanging around the training room on Thursday and working some in shorts and helmets. Both have suffered from mono and could return to practice as early as Sunday if they are cleared by the Auburn medical staff. The same goes for sophomore defensive end Tony McClain, who did some light work on Thursday, but still hasn't been cleared for contact.
Thursday was the first day the Tigers have divided up players to work on scout teams against the offense and defense. Normally that's a day that is an adjustment period for players not used to that job, but Tuberville said the day went smoothly and was a good one for his team as they worked on all phases of the game including goal line, short yardage and two-minute.
"Hugh Nall made a comment that it looked like the best scout team he's gone against since he's been here," Tuberville said. "That's good because they make you better. It's a pretty good sacrifice to guys to get on the scout team, but you have to have them. They are as important as your other players. They go through a lot and don't get any recognition."
The most noticeable scout team members on Thursday were at the quarterback position, where left-hander Brandon Cox played the part of projected USC starter Matt Leinart along with Wesley Hill. The part of wide receiver Mike Williams was played by walk-on wide receiver Maurice Anderson, who at 6-3, 201 can give the Tigers the size match-up they are looking for. Tuberville mentioned that the third team QB spot is not set, but noted that Hill is probably the guy right now ahead of Cox.
In the kicking department, freshman John Vaughn kicked solely in warm-ups with holder Justin Fetsko while Tuberville looked on anxiously. Vaughn was booming kicks from every yardage and angle, strengthening his hold on the number one spot for extra points and field goals.
Vaughn kicks field goals in the rain out of the hold of Fetsko while Coach Tommy Tuberville looks on.
Both Kody Bliss and Michael Gibson had great days punting the ball, but Bliss continues to wow onlookers with his ability. Thursday he averaged nearly 50 yards per punt with hang times over four seconds for all but one kick. What could decide the difference is getting the punts off, where Gibson had a kick blocked for the first time this fall. Bliss has yet to have a kick blocked.
"We worked a lot on the kicking game, which we will continue to do," Tuberville said. "We worked on every phase. The field goal kickers, punters and snappers still amaze me. They look like they are getting better everyday."
Auburn also added several players to the 105-man roster, allowable once school starts. These players will add depth to the scout teams for the remainder of the season once they go through the mandatory three day period in shorts and helmets. They are:
Steve Aldridge WR 6-4 220 Fr. Coltsneck, NJ
Michael Battle CB 5-8 155 RFr. Macon, GA
Kevin Beall SS 6-0 185 RFr. Memphis, TN
Chas Crofoot DS 6-2 185 So. Orlando, FL
Travis Eades QB 5-11 170 Fr. Bessemer, AL
Jarrod Gibson FB/LB 6-1 235 Fr. Mobile, AL
Brandon Haley LB 6-3 210 Fr. Lakeland, FL
A.J. Harris DL 6-3 250 Fr. Bronx, NY
Alex Howell WR 5-9 161 Fr. Montgomery, AL
Jason Keasler WR 6-0 162 RFr. Gadsden, AL
Kennan O'Neal DB 5-6 175 RFr. Cordova, TN
Sam Rives WR 6-2 182 Jr. Pelham, AL
A.J. Ruffin DB 6-0 180 RFr. Butler, AL
Scott Terry TE 6-5 243 RFr. Birmingham, AL
Andrew Turman FB/LB 6-0 225 Fr. Hoover, AL
John White K 5-7 143 Jr. Midlothian, VA
Craig Williams WR 5-10 199 So. New Orleans, LA
Mark Wise DE 6-0 236 Jr. Samson, AL
Tuberville reported that there is still no word on defensive end Stanley McClover from the NCAA Clearinghouse on his eligibility, but they did get word back that all of his paperwork has arrived. Tuberville said because of that he hopes to have an outcome sometime Friday.
The Tigers will practice Friday in full pads before taking Saturday off. Sunday will begin a regular week of practice as the Tigers move into game week. Kickoff for the Aug. 30 match-up with USC is scheduled for 5 p.m. and can be seen on CBS.