Tigers Get Back To Work For Capital One Bowl

Coach Tommy Tuberville talks about his team's first practice since defeating Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Auburn, Ala.--Following a 25-day lay-off from practices following a 28-18 victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl, the Auburn Tigers got back to work on Thursday with a two-hour practice in full pads. Coach Tommy Tuberville says the practice was a good one for his team as they begin to get ready for the Wisconsin Badgers in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2.

"I would have liked to have a little bit better weather today, but it was a good practice considering it was in the low 40s with some rain on top of it," Tuberville says. "Our guys are excited about, number one, finals being over. We haven't gotten our grades back. We'll get those in the next couple of days and we'll see how those came out.

"It has been a long time since we practiced," he adds. "We had a little rust out there today. We've done a lot of weight lifting and running the last couple of weeks, but most of it has been studying and getting back in the classroom to make sure we finish up strong academically."

Marquies Gunn works against a scout team member during drills on Thursday.

Because of the extended break, the Tigers enter the week in good shape as banged-up players such as Joe Cope and Brad Lester both returned to full speed work for the first time. All-American tackle Marcus McNeill, who broke a bone in his hand against Georgia and played with a soft cast on his hand against Alabama, says that he feels good and should be full speed against the Badgers.

As is usually the case when Auburn begins bowl practices, much of the focus on campus will be on fundamentals as the Tigers work to get better before heading to the bowl site for final preparations. It also means a look at a lot of the young kids who have been working on the scout teams all fall. Tuberville says the week is a good one for the players because it gives them a chance to improve before the final game.

"We'll have a lot of meeting time," Tuberville says. "We'll have a lot of time to catch up on fundamentals and techniques going into the Christmas Holidays. We will work part of practice every day on Wisconsin and the gameplan, but most of it, until we get the bowl site, will basically be spent working on fundamentals and techniques like throwing and catching and tackling.

"We're going to do some live drills the next few days if we can get a couple of dry days," he adds. "We're going to do some things full speed to try to get back in the game mode and try to get our guys pretty much geared up to what it's going to be like in a couple of weeks. We're fired up about playing."

For players like Tray Blackmon, Patrick Trahan, Walter McFadden and Aairon Savage on defense and Tommy Trott, Gabe McKenzie and Oscar Gonzalez on offense, this is the week to shine as the coaches begin to get ready for spring practice with a final look at them this week. Tuberville says it's really a chance for the coaches to get back used to seeing them on the field after basically being without them for a full season.

"The thing we always try to do going into bowl practice, all the guys that have been redshirted or have been with the scout teams and the position coaches don't know how they've been doing," Tuberville says. "They don't know how much weight they've gained. It's really all the things that we need to try to get a gauge on to see where we want to start them in spring practice. It starts pretty early for us which is the first the March. We'll only have a couple of months to get ready.

"All of the redshirt players we'll look at," he adds. "Most of the guys that aren't on the first or second teams will get a lot of extra work in the next 10 or 11 practices. We want to do as much full speed work with them as we possibly can. We'll have one scrimmage with them here and we'll do one scrimmage with all the guys on the scout team in Orlando."

The young players won't be the only ones scrimmaging though as the Tigers will continue a pattern they've had in recent years of having physical bowl practices leading up to the game. That's something that has worked as Auburn has won its last three bowl games. Tuberville says they want to get the players as game ready as possible.

"It's the speed of the game," Tuberville says. "That's the reason we're going to scrimmage. We're going to scrimmage our older guys. Today we had a blitz period scrimmage to where our quarterback understands the urgency of the situation and it gets him to set his feet and throwing the ball in the correct way. We did an inside drill which was live.

"We're going to do 11-on-11 once its dries out. Probably either Saturday or Monday or Tuesday we're going to do that. We're not going into this game without some contact work on all of our players, full speed work. It won't be versus scout teams. It will be our first team offense versus the first team defense and so on down the line."

One thing the Tigers are looking to improve on this bowl season is in the punt return game where Tre Smith has struggled this season. Although he's had several outstanding returns, he has also put the ball on the ground several times. Tuberville says because of that they'll give several players a chance to show what they can do before the game.

"Of course we'll have Tre back there," Tuberville says. "We'll also have Robert Dunn and Brad Lester. He's back there catching punts. We'll look at all of that and go with what we think is best. Tre has dropped some punts and if he's lost some confidence then we'll go with somebody else. We'll have to wait and see if he's lost that confidence."

The Tigers will practice Friday and Saturday morning before taking Sunday off. They will return to practice on Monday morning with practices on Tuesday and Wednesday before breaking for the holidays. They will reconvene in Orlando on Dec. 26th to resume preparations for the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2 at noon against Wisconsin.


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