Tuberville Ready To See Young Players In Action

Auburn's Tommy Tuberville talks about the beginning of the 2005 season and some of the spots where young players could see action.

Auburn, Ala.–-All present and accounted for. That's the word from Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville as the Tigers are set to open practice for the 2005 season on Tuesday afternoon. With 104 players on the roster and another invited walk-on player that could join the team in the coming days Tuberville said the team is anxious to get back to work and follow-up last season's 13-0 campaign.

"Classes and summer school finished today and we have final exams Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, but we will practice in the afternoons," Tuberville said. "Those being one-a-days we'll have enough time to get everything in. Today (Tuesday) we'll have practice mostly consisting of freshmen and a few upperclassmen for conditioning drills. Obviously we didn't sign a quarterback last year and we'll have the younger guys out there.

"We'll have about 45 players out today and all the other players will lift weights today and will run with Coach (Kevin) Yoxall. We want to get an idea of where all the new faces fit in and give them an idea of where they're going to be on the practice field. We're glad to be back ready to go."

Tristan Davis will get a shot at running back during two-a-days for the Tigers.

For the most part the Tigers will be healthy going into the season with the exception of a few players. Running back Tre Smith, who had an appendectomy just last week, will miss around a week of practice before returning and Tuberville said he's not concerned about his status for the opening game. The same is true of punter Kody Bliss who strained a hamstring during the summer. Tuberville said he's around 70 percent but should be fine for the opener against Georgia Tech.

Helping to deal with the injuries the Tigers have moved safety Tristan Davis to running back for the opening of fall camp. A solid rock at 5-10 and nearly 210 pounds, Davis was an outstanding back for Tri-Cities High and rushed for 983 yards and five touchdowns as a senior while also returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. While he said the move may not be permanent, Tuberville said it's going to help the Tigers in the immediate future with Smith sidelined.

"Tristan was a defensive back for us and we moved him over to running back to give him the opportunity to see what he can do for us," Tuberville said. "He's got tremendous speed and played running back and defensive back in high school. That will give us the opportunity to look at him over there and see what he can do. It will also give us somebody else to work with with Tre out.

"He played that in high school and on the depth chart he's working his way up," Tuberville added. "He has an opportunity to play a lot of special teams this year. He did redshirt and it gives him an opportunity to come in and learn a little bit about the running game. We'll see what he can do. He was receptive to it. Coach (Al) Borges and Coach (David) Gibbs got together with Coach (Eddie) Gran and visited about it. We do need a little bit more depth over there. If Tre were to go down being our starter that would leave three and you need a lot of running backs in this league."

When the newcomers get on the practice fields Tuesday it will be the first chance for several to impress the coaching staff enough to get into the playing rotation this fall. On offense receivers Robert Dunn, Montez Billings and Prechae Rodriguez all have a shot at earning playing time while tight ends Tommy Trott, Gabe McKenzie and Andrew McCain likewise to get on the field. Defensively several young players like Rudy Odom, Brian West, Alonzo Horton, Tre Blackmon, Jonathan Wilhite and Aairon Savage all have the ability to play early. Tuberville said that while some will play the depth already at Auburn makes a large number unlikely at the moment.

"We've got several I think that can make a big impact," Tuberville said. "If you play a lot of freshmen on your football team it means you're not that good anyway when you have to go out and start them. We're always looking for guys that can help, work their way up, learn from some of the older players, have the opportunity to play special teams and maybe play 15-20 plays in the first few games and work their way up.

"It's very hard to do that on any level, especially where we've got our program, but we do have some pretty talented athletes that we feel like can help us. We're not going to redshirt them just to be redshirting them. We're going to let them have a say-so in that just like we always do. I'll bring them into the office a week before the first game and if they say ‘coach I want to redshirt' then we'll do that unless they can help the team and then we'll sit down and talk about it."

The true freshmen aren't the only players looking to impress the coaching staff beginning on Tuesday as several first- and second-year players will have the chance to get into the playing rotation after strong spring practices. Tuberville said that he's looking forward to watching them during two-a-days to see who steps to the forefront.

"We've got a lot of young guys on this team," Tuberville said. "We've got a lot that we redshirted last year and we redshirted the year before that didn't play a lot. It would be hard to name all of them, but you just look down the list and there are a lot of guys trying to make it on the depth chart, especially through spring practice. We'll play a lot of those guys. A lot of them are at defensive back and a lot of them are at defensive line that are trying to work their way up."

With senior running back Carnell Williams gone the punt and kickoff return duties are once again up in the air heading into the 2005 season. While Smith has the inside track to return punts, because of his injury Tuberville said that several players will get a long look during two-a-days to see if they can make plays without making mistakes.

"Tre is our number one going into two-a-days, but with him out we'll look at Lee Guess," Tuberville said. "We're going to move David (David Irons) over there and let him catch some. Anthony Campbell caught them all last fall and if you look at his highlight film from high school running back punts and kicks you would just be amazed. We have several players like that. Robert Dunn will get a chance to do that. We're probably going to have, starting tomorrow, half a dozen guys catching punts. That's the prerequisite. Number one you have to catch it. If you can catch it then we'll look if you can make people miss. I think we're going to have several candidates that we can use."

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