Defense Has Upper Hand In First Full Pad Practice

With the exception of a few plays, the defense controlled things in Auburn's first full pad practice of the fall on Saturday.

Auburn, Ala.–-The first day in full pads wasn't the sharpest for either the offense or defense, but Coach Tommy Tuberville said that both sides had their moments in the practice that lasted for just over two hours Saturday morning.

"It was another good practice," Tuberville said. "We looked a little better yesterday, especially on offense, than we did the day before. We're starting to put a little bit more of our offense in. Heads are swimming and guys are making mistakes, but at least we're going full speed."

Karibi Dede pulls down Brad Lester during Saturday's practice.

The first full pad day usually brings some injuries and that was the case Saturday as several players left the field with minor bumps and bruises during the practice. Center Steven Ross injured a hip flexor and sat out the majority of the workout while defensive end Stanley McClover strained a hamstring late in the day. Both should return to practice sometime next week and the injuries aren't thought to be severe. Safety Steve Gandy suffered a minor concussion on Friday and sat out Saturday's practice. He said he's hopeful to be back on the field Sunday.

"We're starting to get some players beat up a little bit," Tuberville said, "and we'll lose some. As I just told the guys ‘if you're second or third team and a guy goes out in front of you, now is the time to make it'. The effort is great and the intensity is good. We've just got a long ways to go, but that's what practice is for."

It was a tale of two different situations for the most part as the offense struggled mightily in the first full contact drill of the day, the inside drill, where every part of the offense and defense except for the wide receivers and cornerbacks take part. It focuses on the running game and Saturday the defense handled the offense very handily thanks to some strong play by defensive linemen Josh Thompson and Tez Doolittle and linebacker Travis Williams.

Kenny Irons looks for running room during the 11-on-11 session in Saturday's practice.

When the players broke into one-on-one groups it meant the offensive line was out for revenge and they did a solid job of working against the defensive line in the drill. Starting guard Ben Grubbs continues to be a warrior up front, not allowing much if anything by his man this fall. Also center Joe Cope had another good day working at center and with Ross on the sidelines that was important for the development of the offense.

One player that more than held his own for the defense was junior defensive end Marquies Gunn. Now up to 255 pounds, the Alexander City native moved ahead of Quentin Groves on the strong side during Saturday's practice and is without question Auburn's strongest run defender at end this fall. He said the practice was a good one at times for the defense as they try to improve heading into the opener against Georgia Tech on Sept. 3.

"It went pretty good," Gunn said. "There was a lot of intensity. Everybody was trying to prove a point. We just have to keep getting better. It gives us something to work on. We've got something to focus on and we can come out tomorrow and get better.

"I feel like I have become more physical against the run," Gunn added. "I am converting more on the pass than I did last year. I'm doing pretty good and I feel a whole lot better at 255 than I did at 230. The tight ends just can't push me around like I'm a little kid anymore. It helps me out a whole lot."

When the units converged once again, this time for full team 11-on-11 work, once again the defense controlled the action at the point of attack. The offense struggled to get into rhythm and with sophomore Leon Hart working as second-team center the unit had problems with timing at the line of scrimmage because of his little work at the position.

The one bright spot on offense was the passing game and in particular senior Devin Aromashodu. Perhaps Auburn's most improved receiver two years' running, Aromashodu made two leaping grabs over defenders in the end zone for touchdowns. The plays brought howls of delight from the offensive players and coaches and the many fans watching along the edges of the intramural fields. Aromashodu said he's just trying to make plays this fall to help the team win games.

"I'm just trying to improve and get better every day like the coaches talk about," Aromashodu said. "I'm just trying to come out here and work and earn the respect of my coaches and teammates. Any of us if given the opportunity at receiver are capable of making plays. I just happened to get the chance today and made the best of it."

Commitments Benjamin Tate and Bart Eddins (from left) laugh it up while David Ross looks on.

A player that was Auburn's playmaker last season as a sophomore, Courtney Taylor, said that watching his classmate go up high to snare two touchdowns during the practice made him feel like something special is getting ready to happen for Aromashodu this fall.

"Things are going good," Taylor said. "You can't have it much better. We're shaky at times, but we're making big plays. Like coach said we've got to make the easy plays, but we're looking good so far. Devin's plays were big-time. Like I tell him every morning, ‘we get dressed together, we ride together to Sewell Hall, let's be big time today'. That's our goal when we set out every day, to make big plays. Devin was big time today."

The Tigers will take part in the annual Fan Day festivities Saturday afternoon beginning at 3 p.m. inside Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The autograph session will last until roughly 5 p.m. Practice on Sunday is scheduled for 4:30 on the intramural fields.

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There were several top prospects on hand to watch Saturday's practice, including three of Auburn's early commitments. Defensive lineman Bart Eddins, quarterback Neil Caudle and running back Benjamin Tate were all on hand to watch the practice and mingle and talk with each other. Also on hand was offensive lineman David Ross from Homewood High, offensive lineman Ryan Broadhead from Georgia, safety Justin Bullard from Millbrook and defensive end Courtney Tharpe from Crawford County High in Georgia.

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