New Starter For Tigers In The Middle

Auburn had a shorter practice than normal for an off-week, but it was time enough for a new starting center to emerge.

Auburn, Ala.–-A week off means different things for different football teams. Some choose to grind during practices in a two-a-days type atmosphere while some prefer to give the players a break while still working on things. Auburn chose the latter on Tuesday, something that offensive line coach Hugh Nall said he thought was the right decision.

"I thought it was a great practice," Nall said. "We had an intense inside drill, had a blitz drill, pass rush, and had a 20-minute Arkansas period. Then we took them on the hill and ran them a little bit. I thought it was a good practice. It was crisp. The guys worked hard. We got a little film study in today. It was a good day. We didn't grind them, but we got some work done."

Steven Ross (Left) and Timmy Duckworth double-team Tommy Jackson during Tuesday's practice.

There was one change on the day for the Auburn offense as senior Steven Ross worked with the first-team offense much of the practice, ahead of starter Joe Cope. While admitting both will continue to play, Nall said that Ross will be the starter for the Arkansas game in two weeks.

"Steven moved up to starting center (following the South Carolina game)," Nall said. "He'll start this week. He graded out better than Joe. The one sack we gave up the other day, even though it was a situation where we should have thrown hot to the guy that sacked the quarterback, I gave Joe credit for it because he turned the guy loose when he shouldn't have turned the guy loose.

"Then he got pressure one more time when he got pushed into the quarterback. His grade was lower than Steven's. He's been grading higher and that was the deal. Whoever grades the best is going to start. I'm going to split time with two series."

In addition to Nall, offensive coordinator Al Borges was also a fan of the shortened practice. Working for just under two hours, the Tigers covered all the bases and spent time polishing up parts of the offense and defense. Borges said he thought it was the perfect practice for an off-week.

"It was good," Borges said. "It was light, like a Sunday. We just threw a few ideas out there. We had a long run polishing period and inside run. We did that purposely because we want to get back to getting off the ball. We've got a little extra time, so it's more time to work on the fundamentals. No earth shattering gameplans or anything like that. We've still got plenty of time.

"To me it's all philosophy," Borges added. "I've been with guys where off-weeks were grind-a-thons and bloodbaths for practice. That kind of defeats the purpose of having a bye. Isn't a bye to kind of lick your wounds a little bit and get mentally back. That's the way I would approach it. I would say that we're going to shorten the practice, try to get as much out of it, but we're not going to kill the kids. I think it gets away from the reason you have a bye."

On the injury front the Tigers are very healthy with everyone practicing. Defensive end Octavious Balkcom suffered a slightly sprained ankle during the practice, but should be fine in a few days. Offensively, Courtney Taylor continues to improve after playing well Saturday night against South Carolina. He had been bothered by a sprained ankle.

A position that receives almost as much scrutiny these days on a football team as the quarterback is the offensive line. People are quick to judge offensive problems based on one of the two, but Borges said that it's tough to pinpoint what's going wrong or right with an offense until you study a film closely. After doing that he said he's very happy with the play of Auburn's offensive line at the moment.

"The offensive line, when you don't run the ball or you don't pass protect, always takes hits," Borges said. "But it's one of the most unjust things in the world. Sometimes it's true, but sometimes it's not.

"We run two sweeps where they blow a guy off the edge. We don't get a good block on the support man. No lineman has anything to do with that. Every guy is blocked. We have a loss of five so ‘the offensive line isn't blocking anybody.'

"The people that are saying that don't really know what's going on," he added. "We've given up five sacks in five games. The last sack wasn't the offensive line's fault. We missed a sight adjustment. It had nothing to do with the offensive line. There's so many things that you have to know from a schematic perspective that they're responsible for or someone else is responsible for.

"For the most part our offensive line has been very good, very good. We've gotten great push every time we've been on the goal line. When we've really made an effort to run the football, which is really every game but the first one, we've run the ball decent. We've had a spot here or spot there, but I think we've run the ball pretty well. I think our offensive line is doing just fine. They could stand to improve just like everyone else, but it's certainly not a weakness."

The Tigers will practice Wednesday and Thursday before taking both Friday and Saturday off. Thursday's practice will be with just two coaches as much of the staff will be on the road recruiting.

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