In a spirited one hour and 45-minute session, the players and coaching staff were in an upbeat mood on a damp and cold Thursday, the 12th of 15 spring practice dates for the Tigers.
Nobody was having any more fun than defensive end Stanley McClover, who was good in the one-on-one drills vs. offensive linemen and even better in the 11 on 11 work vs. the entire offense. In those drills, the cat-quick end got to the quarterback for sacks on four occasions. Those big plays helped excite his defensive teammates.
"We have got to have practice enthusiasm out there," McClover said. "We have to make it fun. That is the only way you can make it through it."
Nobody on defense has made more big plays this spring than McClover, who coaches say is getting better as the spring progresses. McClover agrees. "I have been doing a lot of work by myself," he noted. "I have been trying to better my game.
"Last year, you know, was my first year to play. This is my second year and I feel like am progressing in the right way so far. I am doing everything I can to get better."
Head coach Tommy Tuberville noted that he liked the energy at Thursday's practice and was particularly pleased with the defense. "Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves had an outstanding day," Tuberville said. "I thought it was one of their best practices. Those two guys are turning into good leaders for us. We're going to need that."
McClover said he thought the entire defense played well. "We were out there flying around, making noise and having a lot of fun," McClover said. "When we do that it really pumps up our defense."
McClover said the fact the defense is making progress even with five expected starters out with injuries shows there is a lot of talent on the 2005 team.
Stanley McClover was impressive at Thursday's practice.
For Saturday's A-Day spring football game, Tuberville said that he believes the offense will have a "definite advantage" because the defense is going to stay in a base defense all four quarters. That will change, the coach noted, on the final day of spring practice next Wednesday when the defense will be turned loose to throw everything it has got at the offense.
Tuberville said the Thursday practice, which had three different sessions of 11 on 11 drills, wasn't totally dominated by the defense. "We had a good day offensively, I thought, executing," he said. "They had their hands full with the defense because they came ready to practice today, but I thought we made some progress on offense. We got a lot of stuff in. It was good to see us have a little bit more consistently, especially against a pretty tough defense right now."
Perhaps the most impressive play of the day for the offense was Brandon Cox throw a screen pass to Tre Smith. The tailback made several nice moves on a catch and run that running backs coach Eddie Gran really liked. Smith, a junior, is running number one at tailback even though backups Kenny Irons and Carl Stewart are having good springs.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges said he will be looking to see how the backups perform at A-Day. "I think all of us as coaches will be looking to see how the kids without a lot of game experience react in a game-like situation--players like Kenny Irons, Mike McLaughlin, Calvin Booker--those type of kids. I am very curious to see how they handle the situation."
Looking ahead to Saturday's 1 p.m. kickoff for A-Day, defensive coordinator David Gibbs said, "I want us to be sound and have everybody look like they are on the same page and look like they are well-coached.
"Obviously, when you are going against a talented offense like ours they are going to make some plays and they are going to move the football. Just having kids flying around, tackling and playing hard, really at this point are all that matters. You obviously don't want to give up a whole bunch of points, but it is an offensive show. Fans want to see points on the board so I am sure there are going to be some points on the board Saturday."
"I want to see guys compete in game-like situations, seeing how they react when the coach is off the field with people in the stands screaming and hollering because some kids act funny when those situations occur," Gibbs added. "It is going to be good for our guys, especially the young guys in the secondary. Our offense, I will tell you what, I have been impressed so far this spring."
The Tigers will not practice on Friday, but will have two workouts next week following the A-Day Game. One of those sessions will include a scrimmage that is half the length of the previous ones, Tuberville said.
In other news:
*Tuberville expects there will be more passing at A-Day than there was in the first two scrimmages of the spring.
*The head coach said he plans to watch the first half of the spring game from the sideline. He will spend the third quarter in the television both with CSS, the regional network that is televising the game live at 1 p.m.
*Defensive tackle Wayne Dickens, a senior, is expected to see little or no action in the spring game because the coaches plan to give extended playing time to younger linemen such as Tez Doolittle, Neil Brown, Tyronne Green, Pat Sims and Nathan Farrow. "Wayne has had a good spring," Tuberville said.
*One of the nation's top junior quarterback prospects attended the practice, Jevan Snead, of Stephenville, Tex., watched the Tigers in the full pads session.
*Tuberville said he likes playing spring games because players are excited about participating.
*Al Borges said that Blake Field does not have full range of motion in his left arm and shoulder and that may limit the redshirt freshman's playing time for A-Day. The backup quarterback was injured when he tried to tackle safety Steve Gandy, who was returning an intercepted pass in last Saturday's scrimmage.