Position Move Highlights Wednesday Practice

A position change on defense highlighted a learning day for the Tigers on the practice field Wednesday.

Auburn, Ala.--After a very physical first day in pads on Tuesday, the Auburn Tigers practiced for just over two hours Wednesday inside Jordan-Hare Stadium with the emphasis on learning on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

Because of a few injuries suffered Tuesday, mainly a sprained MCL by defensive end Jay Ratliff, several Tigers worked in different positions Wednesday with Jake Slaughter the most obvious, making the move from middle linebacker to defensive end.

"We moved Jake Slaughter to defensive end for a few days to look at him there," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "He probably will still play linebacker, but we're going to need some help at defensive end as the spring goes on and next season. He's a guy that can run and he's strong. Plus, we've got pretty good depth at linebacker so that enables us to move him over there."

While Ratliff will miss just a few practices over the next week or two with his injury, the same can't be said for redshirt freshman offensive lineman Steven Ross. Going down during an inside drill in Tuesday's practice, the Nashville native suffered a sprained knee and a partially cracked fibula in his left leg and will miss four to six weeks of action, thus ending his spring.

For the rest of the team the spring is just underway and that means the important process of learning the new offense and defense under new coordinators Bobby Petrino and Gene Chizik. Defensively, the focus of Wednesday's practice was on getting the players lined up correctly and making the correct calls both in the huddle and on the field. Because of the move of Slaughter to defensive end, that meant a move for Lemarcus Rowell inside to middle linebacker in addition to his work on the weak side.

Freshman Lemarcus Rowell works on his pursuit to the ball during Wednesday's practice.

Without the contact work that was evident in Tuesday's practice, the defense worked more in man-to-man situations both up front and in the secondary.

Up front junior defensive tackle Spencer Johnson was very impressive in pass rush situations as he consistently beat his man off the ball to get pressure in the backfield. In the secondary, Junior Rosegreen and Roderick Hood both had good days working against the wide receivers in one-on-one drills.

Offensively, the emphasis was clearly on the passing game. Trying to get the quarterbacks, receivers and backs on the same page throwing the ball, the coaching staff dedicated a large portion of the two hours to just that cause. One of the players who stood out on Wednesday on the offensive side of the ball was sophomore wide receiver Joe Walkins. Catching everything thrown his way, Walkins, along with Marcel Willis and Jeris McIntyre form the nucleus of a small returning wide receiver group. He said that makes this spring vitally important as they learn the new offense.

Joe Walkins leaps to make the catch on Wednesday.

"Coach Petrino has a pretty good offense," Walkins said. "It seems like a scheme that is going to work, but we as receivers have to work together. Like Coach (Greg) Knox tells us all the time, we have to have tempo and we have to get off the ball. There is a lot more tempo in the offense right now so we're constantly going and going and going. We have to know where we have to be, in the right spots doing the right things. If one person makes a mistake it messes up the whole play so we're just going out there right now working hard."

Working on the passing game is sometimes a difficult thing to do for Auburn this spring as in addition to the three receivers already mentioned, only Silas Daniels and Justin Fetsko have game experience at the position. Because of that fact, Walkins said he's going to do everything in his power to show the young guys the ropes at wide receiver this spring even though he's just a sophomore.

"Right now, they're looking for leadership," he said. "This whole team is looking for leadership. What I'm trying to do is lead by example, not just talking. I know I'm a young guy, but I have been playing football all my life. I'm trying to do what the coaches ask me to do and try to lead by example. We just have to work together as a team so we can get to one goal, try to win the national championship."

Tiger Ticket Extra: While the contact was kept to a minimum, it didn't keep the action from completely being tame as several scuffles broke out during the practice. The most heated came between Danny Lindsey and Lemarcus Rowell late in the day during a period of 11-on-11 work. It took several players and coaches to separate the two, but things calmed quickly after that...Auburn worked on the kicking game for the first time on Wednesday as both Damon Duval and Philip Yost kicked following Wednesday's practice. Though both kicked the ball well, Tuberville said they have a lot of work to do in that area but it was a good start...The Tigers will practice Thursday afternoon, take Friday off and are scheduled to scrimmage at 9 a.m. on Saturday. At Thursday's practice, several hundred high school coaches are expected to attend. They will be on campus for the annual coaching clinci.

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