First Day In Pads A Good One For Tigers

The Auburn Tigers strapped on the pads for the first time this spring and had a spirited two-plus hour practice on Wednesday.

Auburn, Ala.--The first day in full pads for the Auburn Tigers this spring went off without a hitch as the football took advantage of a beautiful day on the Plains to practice for just over two hours on Wednesday.

Coach Tommy Tuberville said he was pleased with the effort of his Tigers and the aggressiveness on both sides of the ball.

"It was a good day of practice in the first day of pads," Tuberville said. "We have a lot of guys trying to earn positions and competition is a wonderful thing. We did a lot today against each other and we want to do that the first day to show guys where they're at and how far they have to go. The defense is going to do a lot better earlier than the offense."

In addition to the normal full pad drills such as the inside drills and one-on-one pass rushing situations, the Tigers spent almost 20 minutes in a "thud" type scrimmage where the ball carrier doesn't go to the ground, but the play is full speed. The highlight of the day on defense was the play of redshirt freshman Josh Thompson, who made several nice plays in the backfield including a big hit on running back Tre Smith. Defensive line Coach Don Dunn said he was happy with the effort of Thompson and Jay Ratliff on Wednesday and not so happy with other things the line did as a whole.

"He had a good day today," Dunn said of Thompson. "Everything is going to look different on film, of course, but I just liked his effort. I was disappointed in Tommy Jackson to be quite honest with you. Josh showed a lot of guts, a lot of enthusiasm, suddenness, he's strong, eagerness. I think he had a good day.

"I thought Jay did a good job for the first time because that's a whole other world going in there," Dunn added. "We have to work on his pass rush. They are young, but the effort is good. We just have to get some mistakes ironed out. They are doing a lot of looking instead of reacting and that's just because they haven't been in the line of fire. Saw some good things and saw some things that make me a little nervous, but it was the first day."

In addition to Dunn's praise of Thompson and Ratliff, Tuberville said that sophomore defensive end Stanley McClover was a guy that caught his eye on Wednesday. The speedster was in the backfield on many passing plays and has the ability to be a playmaker for the Tigers on the defensive side of the ball.

"Stanley McClover showed up quite often," Tuberville said. "We knew he would. He has to play a lot better against the run. His athletic ability is really showing up on this first day of practice."

Defensive end Stanley McClover and offensive tackle Marcus McNeill battle in a one-on-one drill during Wednesday's practice with Coach Terry Price looking on.

Offensively, quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Brandon Cox had impressive days throwing the ball and running the offense. Redshirt freshman Kelcy Luke wasn't as crisp on Wednesday putting the ball in the air and had an interception returned for a touchdown by linebacker Travis Williams during the scrimmage.

Working in three different units with Campbell getting the first-team snaps and Cox, along with Luke, splitting the second-team duties, the offense concentrated on getting the ball in the hands of the running backs in space. That worked well with both Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown having big days catching the ball out of the backfield. Additionally the Tigers hit several big plays over the top of the defense with Silas Daniels and Devin Aromashodu going for big yardage on catches from Campbell.

"The quarterbacks looked good," Tuberville said. "We're still making some mistakes on our reads. It's not bad for a first day in pads. The guys are a little rusty and putting all these new things in everybody's head is swimming, but it was pretty good."

Up front on offense the starting line did a good job in pass protection and tackle Marcus McNeill had a dominating day from his position. Among the younger guys that looked good was guard Ben Grubbs, who continues to get better while battling Jonathan Palmer for first-team duties at guard. Tuberville said just having guys competing hard in the spring is what it's all about and that's what he saw out of his team on the first day in pads.

Running back Tre Smith looks for yardage against the Auburn defense during Wednesday's scrimmage.

"We'll have to watch the film, but everybody practiced and the competition is what I'm excited about," Tuberville said. "We've got players in a lot of different positions and have a chance for a lot of different guys to play. When you don't have a position sowed up in spring practice it makes it very interesting. The defensive and offensive line is always a battle in the spring because they go against each other every day in almost every drill. It's not like the fall."

Among the most exciting plays of the scrimmage on Wednesday was a tussle between Thompson and guard Danny Lindsey. Two of the strongest players on the Auburn team, the two were quickly broken up before any damage was done. Also linebacker Quentin Groves had a huge block to spring Williams for his touchdown on the interception return. Groves laid into offensive lineman Jarrod Britt to free up the touchdown run.

The kicking game was solid as well on Wednesday as sophomore Kody Bliss continued to punt the ball well this spring. Returning the punts were Carnell Williams, Silas Daniels, Tre Smith and Courtney Denson. Both Philip Yost and John Vaughn were kicking the ball extremely well with Yost making a 48-yarder to end the practice.

The only injury to speak of on Wednesday was a mild concussion by senior defensive end Doug Langenfeld. He left the practice field because of a headache and did not return. He should be fine later in the week. Linebacker Lemarcus Rowell is nursing a sore ankle and should return to practice Saturday.

An interested spectator at Wednesday's practice was former Auburn and current Clemson defensive coordinator John Lovett. The coach remains friends with the Auburn staff and brought his defensive line coach to Auburn to get a look at what the Tigers are doing to get ready for the season. Clemson begins spring practice on Saturday. Lovett brought a defensive line coach with him to observe teaching being done by Terry Price and Don Dunn.

Several former Auburn Tigers were on hand for Wednesday's practice including Reggie Torbor, Dexter Murphy, Spencer Johnson, Brandon Johnson and Jeris McIntyre. All are working out in Auburn to prepare for Pro Day on March 15. Looking on as well was linebacker Haven Fields, now playing in the CFL, and former Tiger noseguard and CFL standout Harold Hallman. Auburn football sideline reporter and former linebacker Quentin Riggins was also in attendance.

Tiger Ticket Extra: Hoping to make a name for himself as a future linebacker to remember is LaGrange (Ga.) High's Tray Blackmon. The speedy defender was present at Auburn's practice and is being mentioned as one of the South's top defensive players for next season.

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