Tigers Get Physical In Monday Practice

Auburn, Ala.--All of the other Auburn students had classes off on Monday for Labor Day, but not the Auburn football team. With the threat of Tropical Storm Frances bearing down on Auburn, the team spent more than two hours in class on the practice fields at the School of Hard Knocks with professor Thomas H. Tuberville the featured lecturer.

Looking more like a spring scrimmage or two-a-days practice than a game week workout, the Tigers were in full pads and getting after each other from the first whistle. With several full tackle drills, including a goal line drill in which the defense got the best of the offense, Tuberville made sure to get his team's attention as they head into the SEC portion of the schedule against Mississippi State this weekend with one of the most physical in-season practices in recent memory.

"We have a whole day off and we don't play until Saturday, so if you're going to do it any day this is the day to do it," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "We need to get a little bit more physical, I think. Offensively, that's coming off the ball. It's established by your offensive line, your lead blockers and your receivers' ability to be tenacious too. It's not exclusively an offensive line deal, but it starts there with the offensive line coming off the football."

Tre Smith (22) runs the football in scrimmage work on Monday as linebacker Derrick Graves (29) pursues the junior tailback.

Always preaching to the defensive line to be more physical, Coach Don Dunn said that the practice was one that this team needed after playing a strange offensive team in Louisiana-Monroe. With Mississippi State ready to pound the ball at the Tigers, he noted that the line needed to work on getting better at the point of attack.

"You have to strike a lick," Dunn said. "With what we played against last week with the type of blocking schemes, it was all sideways. Physical to me is coming off straight ahead, shoulder pad to shoulder pad, helmet to helmet. Us coming off an delivering the lick instead of catching the lick. You have to practice it and I thought today was a physical practice. I thought Coach Tuberville set the tempo, that was a hard practice today. We started some drills over again, it was good."

With the day to work on nothing but football, Borges said it gives the Tigers a chance to look back again and look forward to the Bulldogs. After watching the video Borges said that both Jason Campbell and Brandon Cox played well at quarterback and graded nearly 90 percent. One thing Borges said was obvious when going back and watching the game was how much the substituting affected the team in terms of being clean and crisp running the offense.

"It's hard because we're playing a lot of guys," Borges said. "We're in the third series of the game and already we're making substitutions. That's tough, I don't care who you're playing. It's tough to get continuity for anybody, but it's necessary in my opinion. You sacrifice that. You may not score 50-something points, but we got so many guys playing time and still had a 30-point win. You can't complain about that. I'll take that every week."

Although it worked in the opener, don't expect to see nearly as many players on offense this week against Mississippi State. Showing a strong defense in the opener against Tulane, the Bulldogs have talent up front and Borges said that has Auburn ready to do whatever it takes to get a victory this week in Starkville.

"We're going to play this pretty straight up," Borges said. "This is a whole different game here. This is a SEC opponent and these guys are tough. This is not going to be an easy game and anybody that thinks it is, is crazy. This team is playing fired up and confidently right now. If we don't go there with the intent that we've got to play our best players as long as we can to win, then we'll be in trouble."

The plan has been for redshirt freshman Brandon Cox to get as much playing time as possible this season, but the plans may be shelved somewhat with games against Mississippi State and LSU coming up the next two weeks. Although he was pleased with his play, Borges said Cox won't have a set time to enter the game this week and the coaching staff will decide when and if there's a situation he can help the team.

"We're still going to try to find spots to get Brandon in the game," Borges said. "We're not dispelling that. But to say he's going in on the third series, not this game. He did a good job too. He only threw six balls and hit three of them and he didn't throw a bad pass, but all bets are off for this game."

Defensive end Stanley McClover (75) and noseguard Josh Thompson (right, in orange) try to jam the running lanes in scrimmage work on Monday.

A player who will be more involved in the offense this week is senior running back Ronnie Brown. Named the coaching staff's offensive player of the week for his unselfish play against the Indians, Brown had only 55 yards rushing and two catches for seven yards, but Borges said he did many things right and was a big part of the offense.

"He did a heck of a job," Borges said. "He averaged seven something per attempt, had two catches, and really blocked well. If he's going to be in there as a fullback he's going to have to do some of that and he did a pretty nice job of blocking. I thought his overall performance was good even though it wasn't a flashy thing in the scorebook."

A good sign on Monday was the overall health of the Tigers heading into SEC play. Wide receiver James Swinton returned to action and guard Ben Grubbs practiced with just a slight limp after spraining his ankle in Saturday's game. Defensively, both Montae Pitts and Montavian Collier were back on the field after being suspended from the opener for violations of team rules. Pitts split time at first team cornerback with Kevin Hobbs.

Auburn will return to practice Tuesday afternoon and practice Wednesday and Thursday in Auburn before heading to Starkville on Friday afternoon. Kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and can be seen on JP Sports.

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