Defense Unable To Finish Strong In First Scrimmage

The defense could not follow through after an impressive start as a variety of young players made their presence known in the first scrimmage session of spring practice.

Auburn, Ala.--In the first scrimmage of spring workouts the defense came out fired up and very physical from the get go. However, that unit wore down a bit and lost Travis Williams to a mild ankle sprain around the middle of the workout, and the offense was able to take advantage of that to bounce back after being dominated early.

"We have got play the whole game," linebackers coach Joe Whitt said. "We didn't play the whole game right there. It's spring, we lose a guy here and there and the other guys don't step up and pick it up. When Travis Williams came out we were a different group."

Redshirt sophomore safety Eric Brock, who was seeing his first live action as a starter, echoed Whitt's comments about the defense not being able to finish strong after a great start. "The defense started out really well and we had the tempo going for us and everything," Brock said. "Then, as the game got on the offense started building up some confidence and they got a few drives on us."

The Tigers' new defensive coordinator David Gibbs, who was able to see his players in a live, full contact situation for the first time, said following the session that he felt like the day was a mixed bag of good and bad, but added that he would not really know how things went until Sunday.

"It was a typical first spring practice," Gibbs explained. "You have got guys out there for the first time running around. We did some good things we did some bad things. The kids played hard and they got hot and tired and all of those good things, but who knows. We will have to watch the film before we make too many judgements."

One of the biggest highlights of the day for the defense, which was breaking in number of young player for either starting or backup roles, was the play of the freshman linebackers that have joined the program over the past couple of years.

Chris Evans, a true freshman after greyshirting last year, Courtney Harden, a redshirt freshman and Merrill Johnson, a redshirt freshman, all showed the ability to fly around the field and play a very physical style of football on Saturday.

"We had some guys run around and get to the football and I think all of the young guys made some hits," Whitt explained. "I know Chris Evans showed up. Courtney Harden showed up and Merrill Johnson showed up, just all of the young guys. I saw Kevis Burnam make some plays. All of them did, every guy out there made some plays."

Courtney Harden lays a good hit on running back Kenny Irons

Harden said that he was just excited to finally have the chance to start showing what he was capable of doing on the field. " I can't explain the feeling," the talented linebacker noted. "I just had to prove myself out there and show my teammates that they could depend on me when it was time for me to get in and show myself.

" I just wanted to show everybody that I have been working hard and that my knee is 100 percent after my surgery and that I can do the same things as everybody else," Harden added. " But, I still have a lot of learning to do. I have got to work on my technique and my keys. I have got to get better with my eyes and reading the field and all of that.

"We are just trying to fit in with our senior linebackers and all of the other guys," Harden added about the trio of freshman linebackers. "We are just trying to be physical and prove to them that we want to be a part of the team and we are not slouches. We just wanted to step it up and show them that we are on their level and that we are not going to let them down when it is time for us to go in and play."

There were also a number of young players in the secondary who got a lot of playing time in Saturday's scrimmage, and Gibbs, who coaches the secondary, said that he enjoyed getting to see his group of players get out there and mix it up. However, he added that he would have to take a wait and see approach before evaluating their performance.

"I was excited to watch them out there in live situations, but to sit here and act like you can evaluate from standing on the sideline live--I don't think that is a fair way to evaluate my players," Gibbs explained. " I think I need to study the film for a couple of hours and that is when you will really be able to tell who played well and who played bad.

"A guy can totally do the wrong thing and end up making a play on the ball out there and everybody thinks he made a great play, when in reality he is in the wrong position," the coach added.

Gibbs also explained that the biggest thing that he took away from the session is that he is excited by the level of athletes that he will be working with day in and day out, but that his defensive group is still a very, very long way from a finished product.

"We have got all kinds of young talent," the defensive coordinator said. "We have just got to keep coaching them, keep practicing and keep taking reps and hopefully they will keep improving, but this is the first scrimmage of spring practice so we have got a long way to go."

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