The Tigers worked out in full pads a little more than two hours with the last half of the practice in a light rain.
Concentrating on the mental side of the game, both the offensive and defensive units worked on the little things that have been hurting them as they prepare for a scrimmage on Thursday that closes the book on practices until the team returns to campus April 2 following spring semester break.
"Today was a practice where we kind of went back to basics," Coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We've gotten most everything we wanted to in this spring practice. We've looked a little bit rusty in our technique and that's a fault of trying to get too much done in a short period of time. Now that we've got everything in we've gone back to working on technique and fundamentals. It showed out there today because we need a lot of work at that."
Linebacker Derrick Graves and tight end Robert Johnson battle for position in Wednesday's practice.
While much of the day was spent in position groups working on footwork, blocking and tackling, the team also spent time working in team situations. Doing both the inside and blitz drills, the offense had some bright moments, particularly running the ball. But, just as most practices have gone this spring, it was once again the defense that made the big plays. Interceptions by Roshard Gilyard and Carlos Rogers of Daniel Cobb passes continue a trend of making big plays from the secondary.
"We have to improve offensively," Tuberville noted. "Defensively, we continue to improve. We're getting more players in the right positions. It has been fun to watch them this spring. They've had a fun time. It's harder to play offense and it's harder to pick up new things. Obviously, we've gotten quite a few things in and we're a little bit rusty. We're going to need a lot of repetitions."
One place in particular that is a cause for concern right now for the coaching staff is the offensive line. Looking to replace departed starters Kendall Simmons, Mike Pucillo and Hart McGarry, coach Hugh Nall and the offensive staff have given several players the opportunity to step up this spring and only a few have answered the call at the moment. Senior Ben Nowland continues to hold off Danny Lindsey at center, easily the most solidified spot on the line.
At tackle Mark Pera has moved to the weakside spot because of his improved play this spring. The move has sent Ryan Broome to the strong tackle position. Looking for answers, Tuberville said he's seen some improvement but there are miles to go.
"We're getting better," Tuberville noted following Wednesday's practice. "The little experience that Mark has really helped on Reggie Torbor. It helped us be able to make plays and do some things we needed to get done."
Another good sign for the offensive line was the return of Steven Ross, Taylor Bourgeois and Steve Goula to the practice field Wednesday. Recovering from a broken bone in his foot as well as a strained knee, Ross dressed but didn't take part in any of the drills. He did, however, work on his snaps as the coaching staff prepares to give him a look at center. Bourgeois is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and won't get any contact work this spring but still suited up to do his rehab work with strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall. Goula is returning after having surgery to repair an injured right hand and was also checked for a possible neck injury, but those tests produced good news for the lineman. He could return to practice when the team reconvenes on April 2 in Auburn.
Defensive tackle Dante Booker is shown at Wednesday's practice.
On the injury front, tailback Chris Butler limped off the field with an ankle sprain he suffered during drill work. His injury is not expected to be serious. Defensive end Jay Ratliff continues to be bothered by a sore knee but ran on the sidelines today in a continuation of his rehab work. He could return to practice following spring break. Back on the field moving with less trouble was defensive tackle Dante Booker. Without Demarco McNeil on the field moving better as he recovers from knee surgery, the presence of Booker is needed for this Auburn defense to get where it wants to go this spring. Booker missed the first half of practice with a severe ankle sprain.
The Tigers return to practice Thursday at 3:50 p.m. when they will hold what Tuberville said will be a "half scrimmage" inside Jordan-Hare Stadium following individual and team drills. After the Thursday practice, there will just be four practice days remaining including the annual A-Day Game on April 6th at 1 p.m.