Tommy Tuberville and his staff will welcome back a group that should be well rested after a week off from classes during spring break and an 11 days off since the last practice, a half scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
At that last practice, the offense showed signs of improvement with both the running and passing games. New coordinator Bobby Petrino said he is far from satisfied with what he is seeing although he noted that the offense wasn't manhandled like it had been much of the first two scrimmages.
"I think we're getting more physical," Petrino noted. "The kids up front have been moving around a little bit, trying to find the best group together. Up front is where it all starts, and I think they did a better job blocking in the third scrimmage than in the first two."
Petrino said he has been particularly worried about the wideouts this spring, but he even has some praise for that group. "Finally, we got a few plays out of them and some of them were able run the ball after they made the catch," he said. "That is what we've got to start doing so that was good to see."
Signees Montae Pitts (with ball) and Courtney Taylor check out the Tigers at spring practice. Both played quarterback last season for their high school teams, but will be making the move to wide receiver in college.
Looking at the overall offense, which is still being outplayed by the defense, Petrino said, "Well, you know, we're not where I'd like to be. That's for sure. I'd like to be further along in our passing game in our timing. What we need to do is when we get one-on-one coverage that we need to know that we can go to a certain receiver, and we know that he will get open, and that the quarterback will get him the ball. And, we're really not there yet. And, I think, once we get to that point, then the pressure comes on the defense to get to a little more zone coverage and then our running game will open up more."
When asked what improvements he has seen in other areas, Petrino said, "Well, of course, our tight ends are still playing well and they are going to be a strength for us. I was impressed with our fullbacks in the third scrimmage--Mike Owens and Victor Horn. I thought they did a good job with the running game. They did a good job with their speed, getting to the linebackers and that makes a difference. The quarterbacks have been hot and cold. They need to learn to be consistent. I think, with all the newness of the offense, that will take a little bit of time."
Quarterback Daniel Cobb said that developing a rhythm with the passing game is the basis for the entire attack. "The whole thing is based on the synchronicity with the quarterback, the wide receivers and the tight ends," Cobb said. His competitor for the starting job, Jason Campbell agrees with Cobb and said he is excited about finishing the spring on a high note after having one of his best days of practice in the third scrimmage.
The tight ends have had a strong spring practice. Pictured from left to right with their position coach Tony Levine are Lorenzo Diamond (49), Cooper Wallace (89) and Robert Johnson (87).
Spring Football Notes: Petrino is not the only coach who has noticed that Victor Horn is playing better this spring. The sophomore is making a serious move for playing time at fullback with Brandon Johnson out of action recovering from shoulder surgery. The 6-0, 226-pound Horn seemed to be going through the motions at linebacker and wide receiver last year, but he is playing with some passion this spring. He is even getting some practice time at tailback, his high school position. Tommy Tuberville said, "Now that we have him at the right position, he looks like he is going to be able to help us."...Another player who is doing better at a new position is Monreko Crittenden. The junior has had several strong practices at guard this spring after struggling with his consistency at tackle last fall. The 6-5, 338-pounder can take advantage of his raw power inside where he is not as vulnerable to the very quick defensive ends and outside linebackers that bothered him at tackle last season. Crittenden is running number one at the strong guard spot ahead of 6-2, 284 senior walk-on Ryan Hockett, the former defensive lineman who transferred to Auburn from Jacksonville University in Florida. Hockett is a friend of starting center Ben Nowland, who is having by far his best spring at Auburn. Nowland and Hockett were teammates at Nease High in St. Augustine.
Offensive line coach Hugh Nall (left) greets Kendall Simmons, a starting tackle last season who is expected to be a high NFL draft pick this year.