Thursday Practice Best Yet, Says Tuberville

Auburn used Thursday's practice as a tune-up for Saturday's scrimmage by working mainly in team situations.

Auburn, Ala.--With several hundred high school coaches on campus for a coaching clinic, the Auburn Tigers practiced for just over two hours on Thursday in what coach Tommy Tuberville called the best practice of the spring to this point.

"This was probably the best practice we've had, a lot of enthusiasm," Tuberville said. "The guys were running around. We put some new things in yesterday and their heads were kind of spinning, but today it looks like we picked it up a little bit better."

With the first scheduled scrimmage of the spring coming up on Saturday, the focus of Thursday's practice was to give the players a chance to work on some of the things they would see and try to execute in the scrimmage. On offense that meant dealing with the blitz, something coach Gene Chizik's defense did to them all day Thursday, sending players from every direction at both Jason Campbell and Daniel Cobb as the quarterbacks stood in the pocket.

"We covered everything in team that we're going to run Saturday," Tuberville said. "We wanted to make sure everybody saw what we were going to run. We'll look at it on film early Saturday morning and talk about it again, correct mistakes and hopefully we can do a lot better on both sides."

One side of the ball that is hurting right now is the defensive line where expected starters Demarco McNeil and Reggie Torbor are missing from practice as well as newly moved defensive end Jay Ratliff. Throw in an ankle injury to Dante Booker and you have a gaping hole up front on defense at the moment. That hole could be even larger if not for the presence of junior defensive tackle Spencer Johnson inside. Controlling play on Thursday in the team drill, Johnson made several plays in the backfield despite playing with a hurt knee himself.

"Spring practice is where you make the team and also where younger players learn from the experienced players," Tuberville said. "Spencer is not an older guy, but is an experienced player. He's been around a while, three years. For him to come out and practice with what he's going through, all I have to do is point to him when some of the younger guys get beat up a little bit. Just show them, ‘Hey, if he can go you can go.' It's good to show by example not by just mouth. He's a good player. He's hurting a little bit, but he's working through it."

Spencer Johnson rushes the quarterback as Ryan Broome tries to get in his way.

With Johnson in the lineup alongside Wayne Dickens, Brett Eddins and Steven Bouldin, the defense more than held its own against the offense for the better part of Thursday's practice. It was when the reserves entered the action up front that the offense held the upper hand. Running at will against the smaller and outsized reserves, including Jake Slaughter and Dexter Murphy, the offense continued to show signs of coming around in this first week of spring practice.

Now the team turns its attention to Saturday and the first scrimmage of the spring. Expected to go anywhere from 130 to 150 plays of full contact, Tuberville said this should give the coaching staff a chance to evaluate the team on both sides of the ball after one week of practice this spring.

"We're looking for several things in the scrimmage," he said. "We're looking for guys to step up. We'll mix players in and out with the first and second team, but we're just looking for the right combination of guys knowing what to do and seeing who can make plays onoffense and who can make tackles on defense."

Tiger Ticket Extra: There were several outstanding plays during Thursday's practice on both sides of the ball, one of which was made by true freshman linebacker Lemarcus Rowell. Dropping deep into pass coverage, he intercepted a Wesley Hill pass intended for Silas Daniels almost 25 yards down field, wowing the throng of coaches surrounding the field...Another player the high school coaches left impressed with was Karlos Dansby. The junior from Birmingham is now playing an outside linebacker position and got pressure on the quarterback on several blitzes Thursday.

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