Kicking Game Getting Lots Of Attention

Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville talks about special teams and how his team is responding heading into game week.

Auburn, Ala.--Continuing to install the game plan for the season opener against the USC Trojan, the Auburn Tigers practiced for just over two hours in full pads on a steamy Friday afternoon on the Plains. Focusing on special teams once again in addition to narrowing down reps for some of the younger players, Coach Tommy Tuberville said he could tell it was time for a break for his team.

"We were kind of running on fumes today," Tuberville said. "It wasn't one of our better practices. I thought our guys focused pretty good. Any time you're going to have a little time off you normally don't have that good of practice. They didn't disappoint me, but we worked through it. We worked on every phase again today. We started to do a little more scout team, but we're still going to do some things against each other."

One of the things Auburn has been consistently working on this fall has been special teams, where Coach Eddie Gran runs the show. Replacing both the kicker and punter from last season in Damon Duval, a great deal of time and effort has gone into those two positions so far this preseason. Tuberville said that he's been pleased by the special teams unit as a whole and is looking forward to seeing some progress this season.

"The kicking game right now looks real good," Tuberville said. "I think it has a chance to be better than anytime we've been here on both sides. The snapping, holding, the kickoffs, the field goals, the extra points, the punts, the guys have really worked hard.

"The only thing we obviously lack is experience," he added. "There is a lot of difference between kicking out there and kicking in front of several thousand folks. We'll make a decision this weekend after going over all of our notes. Whoever is going to do the punting and the kicking, we'll let them work with the first team this week. Then we'll have a backup and somebody on call from there."

Kody Bliss booms a punt while Michael Gibson looks on. Both have been impressive this fall.

Putting an added emphasis on the kicking game this season, Tuberville said the Tigers have spent time at the beginning and end of practices catching kicks and punts, working on protection, and execution on plays and blocking schemes. He also said the only sure things at this point in the return game are that Tre Smith will be involved in punt returns while Carnell Williams will have kickoff return duties. Both should provide a spark that has been missing in recent seasons for the Tigers.

Also working at catching both punts and kickoffs on Friday were wide receivers Jeris McIntyre, Silas Daniels and Courtney Taylor along with defensive back Montae Pitts. Don't be surprised if a few of these guys get a look in the first week or two to see what they can do in a game situation.

The quality depth the Tigers have on the defensive line may come in handy early this season because of injuries to both Wayne Dickens and Tommy Jackson at tackle. Dickens, bothered by a turf toe injury, practiced Thursday, but missed Friday's practice because of soreness. Jackson was riding an exercise bike on the side Friday to rehab a strained groin muscle and also has a touch of the virus that has been running through the team. Both are expected to be ready for the season opener a week from Saturday.

That's not the case with sophomore defensive lineman Tony McClain, who is still being held out because of a medical condition. Tuberville said further tests will be done early next week and they hope to get McClain back for possibly the Georgia Tech or the Vanderbilt game. Offensive lineman Taylor Bourgeois was pushing a sled during Friday's practice, but won't go through contact until the middle of next week to allow his strength to build up.

In the daily Stanley McClover update there has been no word on his eligibility, but Auburn officials did hear from the NCAA on Friday to let them know they have received all the paperwork necessary to make the decision. A decision could come on Monday if the NCAA Representative in charge makes a ruling, which he can do. If not the outcome will take longer because of a committee meeting that must then decide yes or no for McClover.

Wanting to give his team some rest and also a Saturday off, Tuberville said the Tigers will return to work on Sunday afternoon to continue preparations for USC. That doesn't mean Saturday is a free day for the Tigers as almost half the team will go through three injury treatments to make sure they're ready to go next week.

"We'll go Sunday just to get back in the flow of things," Tuberville said. "We'll have a little contact, but it will be more than half of the practice on USC. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday will be just polish. We'll try to get their legs back and get them ready for the next game. You don't just think about this game when you're starting this week. You have to think about three of them back-to-back. The second one will be hot because it's going to be a 2:30 game. Right now they are telling us the Vanderbilt game is either 2:30 or 11:30, so we've got two real hot games back-to-back knowing that the first game is going to be hot and humid."

Sunday will likely be the final heavy contact day for the team as they tone down the practices heading into the weekend. Wednesday will be a tune-up at Jordan-Hare Stadium where the coaches simulate game situations to make sure of rotations, equipment, etc. Kickoff for the USC game is scheduled for 5 p.m. and can be seen on CBS.

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