A Day Of Experiments On Offensive Line

Injuries have forced the Auburn Tigers to experiment with several different combinations on the offensive line this week in practice.

Auburn, Ala.–-What was thought to be a very meaningless practice one day earlier turned into an important day for the Auburn offense as senior Danny Lindsey worked at center with starter Jason Campbell with the news that backup center Steven Ross could be done for the season with a knee injury.

Ross will be evaluated on Monday after giving the swelling a few days to go down. In the meantime the Tigers hope to get starter Jeremy Ingle back after he missed the Ole Miss game with a sprained ankle.

Offensive tackle Marcus McNeill said that having to get used to another center was tough, but it's something the offense can adjust to quickly if needed.

"When you lose a center, the guy that's going to make all the calls and direct all the traffic for an offensive line, that's going to be a big deal regardless of who it is," McNeill said. "It was just a matter of getting used to Steven Ross in the game, but when we got used to it everybody settled down and gelled together. It was hype after that."

Working on the offensive game plan, the Tigers used Lindsey at center with the first team along with walk-on Joe Cope while Tim Duckworth and tackle Troy Reddick got a look at guard with Leon Hart and King Dunlap seeing some time at tackle. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said they're going to have to wait and see how Ingle is before making a decision on the offensive line, but they've got some options.

Danny Lindsey

"We just worked Danny there and worked Cope," Borges said. "Jeremy Ingle is starting to come around a little bit. I don't know what that situation is, but we'll know better next week. We just worked some guys.

"Duck's not bad," he added. "Duck's a kid that is a strong, strapping guy that's really going to be a good lineman. I think if forced into action he would do a nice job. I think down the line, once he gets some spring football under his belt, he's going to be a formidable player. It (the offensive line) is kind of fluid right now because we don't know where we are. We played with a couple of different ideas (Thursday), but we're not ready to commit to anything yet."

Spending around an hour on the game plan for Georgia with Borges and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik the only coaches at practice because of recruiting trips by Tommy Tuberville and the rest of the assistants, the Tigers got one last practice in this week before taking Friday and Saturday off to rest for the home stretch of the regular season. The team will get back to work with a full pads practice Sunday afternoon.

"It was kind of like a Thursday game week practice," Borges said. "I know it's Thursday, but it was kind of like that. We've still got work on the preliminary parts of the game plan. On Monday we'll sit down and cast it in stone a little bit more. We've still got more to work on with the zone and goal line and such. We're going to have a nice heavy Sunday practice, but we're going to solidify it on Monday.

"The practices have been just about what Tubs (Tommy Tuberville) wanted," he added. "Do a little polishing and such, but he didn't want a lot of intense contact, which I think is good. In different years that has been different. In past years in a bye week we've been knocking the dog out of each other, but after nine weeks I don't think that's a good idea. I think we're better off just backing off a little bit and working on some polish and some technique and going from there. These three days have been good."

While the offensive line has undergone some experimentation, so has the defensive secondary with Chizik calling for better play out the cornerback position opposite starter Carlos Rogers. Following Thursday's practice Chizik said that Montae Pitts has stepped up his game this week and has been pushed by the good play of both Patrick Lee and Zach Gilbert.

One of Auburn's most experienced players, McNeill has been through off weeks before, but nothing quite like this one. Instead of putting on the pads and getting physical, the Tigers have spent much of this week resting for next week's game. He said that's exactly what the team needed after playing so many games in a row to start this season.

Marcus McNeill is a candidate for All-SEC honors.

"We knew we were going to have a long haul to start the season with nine weeks straight of playing," McNeill said. "We usually have a bye week earlier in the season and that's kind of good for us, but to get a week off this late in the season and get our legs back is a real plus for us."

That's important for an offensive line that has gotten better this season until bitten by the injury bug. With new starters in Ingle and guard Ben Grubbs, the unit has formed a tight bond as the season has progressed and McNeill said that should serve them wellin the tough tests ahead.

"When we first started off the offensive line wasn't very gelled," McNeill said. "We were individuals. A lot of players got put into new positions and a lot of players hadn't played a lot. Week in and week out we just got stronger and stronger.

"We're a close knit bunch. Everybody on the offensive line is important to the group, even the second team. They have to constantly listen in practice because if something happens they know they have to get in the game and pick up the slack. Whenever you have people like sitting around and paying attention you're going to have a great offensive line."

A Georgia native along with Lindsey and fellow tackle Troy Reddick, this game means a great deal to McNeill. Recruited by Georgia, he said he could have been playing for the Bulldogs, but when Coach Jim Donnan was fired Auburn moved to the top of his list. Now three years later the Bulldogs bring in one of the top defenses in the country to Jordan-Hare Stadium and McNeill said he's ready to see how Auburn stacks up after getting an early start on Georgia this week in practice.

"You definitely want to get a head start on Georgia, especially with the wonderful defense they have," McNeill said. "Their defense is really superior. They have had one of the best defenses since I've been in college. It's always a big game for us. You know Georgia is going to bring it so you have to look at them and study them extra hard because they'll be one of the best defenses we face all year.

"It's a real big game for me," he added. "I have a whole bunch of buddies over there at UGA, a lot of guys I've met at camps over the years and a lot of guys from around my area. You have a whole bunch of comraderie with them. It's going to be a hard fought game, but we have a whole lot of friendships between these two teams. Whenever you're going up against a friend on the opposite side of the ball you always want to do your best and show them up."


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