Auburn, Ala.--Despite the fact that Auburn returned a large number of veterans on defense heading into spring practice, one large area of concern for the Tigers was on the interior defensive line where both Tommy Jackson and Wayne Dickens are gone from the 2005 team.
Looking for someone to step up, Coach Don Dunn had several players that had the ability to make things happen for the Tigers. Two of the most promising were sophomores Pat Sims and Tez Doolittle. Both hampered by injury and effort problems during their careers at Auburn, Dunn said both had plenty to prove when they got on the field this spring.
Facing a long and physical 150-play scrimmage Saturday, the duo again proved they're on the right track with solid play for the defense. After watching the defense dominate at times and struggle at other times, Dunn said that for him it begins in the middle and both Sims and Doolittle did some good things as they continue to improve.
"Both of them have shown a lot of enthusiasm," Dunn said. "They have a lot of want-to like they're happy to be here. They're pushing through. I know both of them's knees are bothering them. Pat tweaked his knee, but he came back. That's encouraging. He's getting tougher, but he's got to get in better shape. He weighs a little too much, but that's because he didn't play for nine months. He's doing a good job.
"Tez is showing some leadership," Dunn added. "He has some enthusiasm. He's hopping around out there when he makes a good play or somebody on defense. They just have to show that they like being out here and they love it, because this is a tough game. I'm happy with both of them so far."
Doolittle is a strong player that is physical at the point of attack.
Saturday the theme for the scrimmage was tough as the Tigers were on field field for just over two hours in game-type situations. For a defense looking to find its top 11 players Dunn said the experience was needed as a test if nothing else.
"What you're looking for from the first play to the end is effort," Dunn said. "That's our big thing on defense. You've got to run to the ball and play with great effort. It was hot and humid and just what the doctor ordered. It was just what coach (Tommy Tuberville). I know he was glad it was hot as were we.
"It builds character and lets you know who you can count on in the third quarter on fourth and one. Football is a tough sport, it's a demanding sport. You can't get enough of days like this. It's going to help us in the long run. The first thing we grade is effort. Hopefully we'll see good effort at the end. I know we made some mistakes, but if you make them full speed that's what you're looking for."
While both have come on strong this spring, it hasn't been an easy road for either. Sims left the team last season only to ask for a second chance following Auburn's bowl game in Orlando. For Doolittle he stuck it out, but has suffered through two knee injuries where he has dislocated his kneecap. Along with them veteran Josh Thompson has played well this spring, but Dunn said he's still looking for Sen'Derrick Marks and even senior Christopher Browder to deliver like he wants on every play. Despite the ups and downs Dunn said that overall he's happy with the play of his guys to this point and hopes it only gets better down the road.
"Without looking at today's film I have been real pleased," Dunn said. "Yesterday we didn't have a very good day. I think we're better when we go out in full pads and get after it. Some of the guys are still young and they don't understand that when we go out in shells it's still football practice and you've got to go 100 percent. I have been real happy with them, but I want them to get a heck of a lot better. You're never satisfied as a coach. Like coach has said you either get better or you get worse. We don't want to have a big dip. We've got to keep climbing and not be up and down like a rollercoaster. So far so good."