Wednesday A Learning Day For Tigers

Auburn spent much of the two hour practice doing mental preparation and work getting ready for Saturday's second scrimmage of the spring.

Auburn, Ala.–-With several players out because of a virus going around the team and already thin at the linebacker position because of injuries to starters Antarrious Williams, Travis Williams and Kevin Sears, the Auburn Tigers practiced in shorts and helmets on Wednesday for just over two hours.

Focusing on teaching on both sides of the ball, Coach Tommy Tuberville said his team was ready for a day just to work on the mental part of the game.

"All of the coaches this morning said they needed a practice where they could spend a couple of hours putting in plays and go over things that they've put in," Tuberville said. "We've put in so much on offense that we just haven't had a lot of practice time. We've been trying to scrimmage it and go against the defense, but the defense has been bringing it to them pretty good. We've been making too many mental mistakes.

"Today we just said we would take a day and meet for two hours of putting in plays and brushing up on problems we're having. Hopefully, tomorrow the offense will do a little better on execution and give ourselves a chance to make a few first downs on Saturday."

Practicing entirely in separate offensive and defensive groups, the Tigers didn't do any offense vs. defensive drills. That's something that is rarely seen, but the coaches said they felt like that's what was needed. That decision was made easier with linebacker Karibi Dede out with the virus along with defensive back Lorenzo Ferguson and several other players.

One of the few healthy linebackers, six to be exact, Kevis Burnam said the day was important for him and for the team because they needed a day to sharpen much of what they had learned this spring.

"There are just six of us now," Burnam said. "Primarily it's the second and third teams. It's a real good opportunity because you don't get a lot of attention when there are nine or 10 guys. It's really giving us a good opportunity to see things. It's giving us an opportunity to mess up really. You really don't learn anything unless it's from your mistakes. You can see what people do with their mistakes, but you really can't learn unless it's hands-on.

"To me, a day like today is huge," he added. "I was getting confused with some of the new stuff we put in. The older guys get it and you learn from the older guys, but everything was moving so fast that you don't really get a chance to see everything in every situation.

"Today was huge," the middle linebacker added. "I learn more on a day like today than a day when we're full pads and hitting because when you're lined up and have to think on your shift, you're also thinking ‘I have to get there before this big guy gets up on me'. Today was huge. I think we really accomplished something today as linebackers."

Kevis Burnam (52) works during a drill on Wednesday.

On the offensive side of the ball there were a couple of moves as junior Jonathan Palmer worked primarily at center on Wednesday with Leon Hart moving behind Ben Grubbs at left guard. Palmer did a good job on his first day at the position while Hart is expected to push Grubbs for playing time immediately. Tuberville said this is a chance to get a more experienced player some time at center while also letting Hart settle into one spot. Palmer said the day went as good as could be expected for a first day.

"The transition went pretty good," Palmer said. "I played it a little bit in the spring last year and in the fall so it wasn't too bad. It's just about getting all the calls down and pointing out protections. It wasn't too bad. I didn't put any on the ground during team (all 11 offensive players), but I put one on the ground during the individual period. As far as team I only messed up once or twice."

Palmer now becomes the second team center behind walk-on Joe Cope, who has been solid in spring drills. The move allows Palmer to work at center, a position where he could wind up in the playing rotation if projected starter Steven Ross went down any time next season. Palmer said the chance for playing time makes the move an interesting one.

"As of right now I'm just-in-case at center, but I'll still be playing guard," Palmer said. "It's a good opportunity with Ross out now. It's an opportunity to get better. At first I was getting guard down pat and then this happened so I was like, ‘I don't know.' When I looked at it again I realized this was getting close to being a starter. One step closer."

Some news on next year's schedule is that the Tigers may be playing in prime time to open the season against Georgia Tech. It's very likely the season opener on Sept. 3 will be a 6:45 p.m. start on ESPN. It would be Auburn's first night game at home since the regular season finale against Alabama in 2003.

The Tigers will practice in full pads both Thursday and Friday before scrimmaging Saturday morning at 10 on the practice fields. It will be the second of three spring scrimmages for Auburn, the next coming on Saturday, March 19 with the annual A-Day game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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