Tigers Get "A Little Better" In Thursday Practice

Coach Tommy Tuberville was pleased with Thursday's practice after a lackluster Wednesday of two-a-days.

Auburn, Ala.–-The Auburn football roster was down one in size when the team began practice Thursday morning as redshirt freshman defensive back Courtney Denson was noticeably absent from the workouts for the second day in a row. Switched to corner from quarterback last fall, Denson has steadily improved throughout the spring and summer and was poised to make a run at serious playing time this fall. Coach Tommy Tuberville said the decision has been made though and they wish him the best.

"Courtney Denson has decided to go back home," Tuberville said. "It was just one of those things. He had played quarterback and was moved to defensive back and he just wants to move back closer to home. We're going to release him and let him go wherever he wants. We're going to try to help him. He's a good young man. He works hard, it's just one of those things where he felt like he needed to get back closer to his family. We hate to see him go."

Denson shown in action last spring.

His departure puts a premium on depth at the cornerback position and that took a hit early in Thursday's practice when junior David Irons went down in drills with a knee injury. At first look it didn't appear to be severe, but he didn't return to practice and will have the knee checked out later in the afternoon.

On the offensive side of the ball senior Ronnie Brown didn't practice on Thursday after slightly spraining a knee in Wednesday's practice. He's being held out for precautionary measures and could return to practice as early as Friday. Wide receiver Silas Daniels got his bell rung after hitting the ground hard on a long pass play late in the day. Tuberville said he should be fine.

Despite the injuries the Tigers worked hard for just over two hours on the intramural fields with showers in and out throughout the practice session. Mixing in just about every phase of the game with an emphasis on the passing game and kicking game, Tuberville said this was easily the best practice of the fall.

"We had our best practice today," Tuberville said. "The weather had something to do with that, but I could tell when we started practice it would be better with the attitude they had. We got a little bit better. We're building confidence. We've still got some guys banged up."

Two areas stood out the most on Thursday and that was the offensive line and quarterbacks. The starting five of Marcus McNeill, Ben Grubbs, Jeremy Ingle, Danny Lindsey and Troy Reddick as well as the back-ups, had one of its better days and impressed the head coach.

"The offensive line looked real good today in blitz," Tuberville said. "That's the first time we've looked that good in blitz since we put this offense in. We're going to have to get much better because in this offense you do see a lot of blitz.

"We've been dragging and they've been getting their ears beat off by the defense," Tuberville added of the offense. "They stepped up a little bit and came out there with a little bit better attitude than the defense. You have to buckle down sometimes and make it work. Today they went out and did well."

Standing out in the group was the junior tackle McNeill. Dominating when healthy the last two seasons, the 330+ pounder has been able to stay healthy this fall and the results have been overpowering. Tuberville said keeping McNeill healthy is something that is a must for this team even with the depth behind him because of the attitude he gives an offense.

"Marcus McNeill is doing well," Tuberville said. "He had a great practice yesterday afternoon and his attitude is coming back. He's struggled a long time with his back. When you're out here, and I can tell you from standing out here with a bad back and neck, he struggled at times just to play and played well. This year, knock on wood, he feels good and is 100 percent. You can tell when he's feeling good. He's more vocal than anyone out here and that's unusual for an offensive lineman."

Quarterback Jason Campbell prepares to pass under the heavy rush of defensive end Stanley McClover.

Under the watchful eye of Coach Al Borges, quarterback Jason Campbell has been impressive throwing the ball down the field as well as reading the defenses and getting the offense in the right play. A senior who has seen just about everything a player can imagine in a game, Tuberville said Campbell appears to be getting primed for a big senior season if he plays the way he's been practicing.

"Jason Campbell is throwing the ball as well as he's ever thrown it and that's good to see," Tuberville said. "He's more patient in the pocket. I think this offense is just going to help him get better and better. Brandon Cox is looking good. It's good to see both of those guys come along."

Defensively, with both Irons and Denson out of practice the reps went to true freshman Tristan Davis and redshirt freshman Zach Gilbert. Both are physical players and Gilbert had the only interception of the day, stepping in front of a Campbell pass on the first play of the blitz period.

Up front redshirt freshman Tez Doolittle is adjusting well to his new role of defensive tackle and, along with Pat Sims, gives the Tigers two solid back-ups to senior Jay Ratliff. At end Marquies Gunn moved to the strong side opposite Stanley McClover and worked with the first team while senior Bret Eddins watched from the side with a sprained ankle.

After being almost perfect through the first three days of practice, senior kicker Philip Yost again struggled on Thursday. Making just two of five field goals, with misses from 27, 37, and 47 yards, Yost is keeping the door open for sophomore John Vaughn. A solid four of five on the day, with makes from 27, 32, 37 and 42 and his only miss from 47 yards, Vaughn is staking his claim to be Auburn's kicker heading into the season opener.

The Tigers return to the practice field for a short walk-through this afternoon. Friday's 4:30 p.m. practice will be the only one of the day as the team prepares for Saturday's 80-100 play scrimmage in the stadium if the weather permits. If it rains any between Thursday afternoon and Saturday morning then look for the 9:30 scrimmage to be moved to the intramural fields.

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