Young Tigers Earn Praise At Sugar Bowl Scrimmage

New Orleans, La.--Bowl week practices can be some of the most fun of the season for a football team and Thursday that was the case for the third-ranked Auburn Tigers as the young players scrimmaged following practice and earned compliments from everyone about their play.

Coach Tommy Tuberville said the day was another good practice day for his team, but it was the young players who stole the show.

"We've just about finished with any contact," Tuberville said. "Tomorrow we'll cut back a lot. You have to be fresh for the game. It looks like everything is in on offense, defense and the kicking game. We'll come back tomorrow and have two walk-throughs the next two days and after that we'll be ready to play."

In a short scrimmage that featured some massive hits by linebacker Merrill Johnson and safety Steve Gandy, the redshirted players put on a show with tailbacks Kenny Irons, Brad Lester and Jerald Watson showing good moves in the holes. Tuberville said the running backs really had a good day and showed him they'll be good players in the future.

"I really like the running backs," Tuberville said. "I told Carnell (Carnell Williams) and Ronnie (Ronnie Brown) that it looks like we'll have a good running game next year with all the young running backs we've got.

"We've got some headhunters on defense, guys that will be looking for a position next year. Merrill Johnson really looked good. Anthony Campbell. We've got a lot of young guys we haven't really looked at a lot. Spring practice is going to be fun to watch and to see who does what. Brad Lester on offense is going to be a good running back for us."

With several dozen high school, junior college and college coaches present, Auburn practiced for just over two hours in full pads inside the Superdome on Thursday and the Tigers appear to be very healthy heading into the Jan. 3 Nokia Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. Up front the health of center Jeremy Ingle was a concern for much of the later part of the season, but Coach Hugh Nall said that everyone is feeling good and continuing to practice well.

"There are certain days you can tell when one or two of them might have stayed out later than a few others," Nall said. "They are just such great people and such competitive guys that we've had two good practices. I thought our six practices back in Auburn were pretty good, too.

"It's one of those deals where you have to stay on them pretty good fundamentally, but as far as effort they're going to give you effort," Nall added." It's my job to keep correcting the little things and keep them fine tuned. They work hard though and we've had two good practices."

Kenny Irons runs in Thursday's scrimmage.

In the scrimmage portion of the day, Nall got a chance to look at several of his young offensive linemen in a game-type setting. Center Joe Cope, guards Tim Duckworth and Jonathan Palmer, as well as tackles King Dunlap and Leon Hart all saw some action as they got a feel for what it's like to play on the surface at the Superdome. Nall said the importance of a day like Thursday can't be measured until months down the road when the team gets ready for spring practice.

"It's invaluable," the offensive line coach said. "Even though it's not that many snaps it's still in a scrimmage situation here in the Superdome. That's a learning experience for them just doing that and being here in this environment. It also teaches you a little bit about them. I'm excited about what I saw on both sides of the ball. It was fun to see."

Sugar Bowl Notes: Wednesday night's activities for the team included an impromptu rap concert among the players. Sophomore defensive end Stanley McClover served as the emcee of the event and fellow defensive end Quentin Groves and well as defensive back Zack Gilbert took part in the concert. Wide receiver Courtney Taylor said that neither did too well and were booed off the stage in favor of defensive back Montae Pitts. Taylor said Pitts was very good, but he hopes not too good or he might get musical aspirations again. Thursday night the Tigers are scheduled to go bowling.

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