Young Players Get A Chance To Shine

Several young defensive players got a longer look in Thursday's practice.

Auburn, Ala.--The preliminaries are out of the way for the 2006 Auburn football Tigers as day number two in shorts is in the books after a very good two hour practice in shorts Thursday afternoon. With almost a dozen players missing the practice because of classroom obligations, Coach Tommy Tuberville said it gave the coaches a chance to work with some of the younger players and teach them more of the system.

"It was our last day just in shorts, tomorrow we put on shoulder pads," Tuberville said. "Today I watched the young defensive linemen. It looks like we're going to have some good ones in a couple of years. Some of them might have a chance to play this year. We'll start recognizing that tomorrow when we have a little bit of contact."

On one of the hottest days of the year in Auburn with temperatures reaching into the upper 90s it was no surprise that several players had problems with cramps. Among those players were receivers Tim Hawthorne and James Swinton, who both had cramps but came back to finish practice. Safety Aairon Savage also had problems with his feet along with true freshman defensive lineman Darrell Roseman who was suffering from shin splints. Tuberville said those are things they'll get worked out once they get through two-a-days.

"He (Roseman) has had bad shin splints all since he's been here," Tuberville said. "He just has to work through it. This field (intramural field) isn't the softest field in the world. It kind of caught up with him out here. We've got a couple of foot problems. They like to wear those shoes that are a little tighter than what they need to be. When they get out here it's a little bit rougher on them. There will be some evaluation on getting the right shoes the next couple of days."

Several players continued to have strong practices as Hawthorne and Mario Fannin again looked solid as they try to learn the offense. Tight ends Cole Bennett and Tommy Trott both had good days in 11-on-11 work as they had several nice catches against the defense. Up front with King Dunlap expected back on Friday after a death in the family Leon Hart has taken over the duties at left tackle and looks like he's improved his technique a lot since the spring.

Guard Ben Grubbs works with a heavy bag to help him keep his hands up and punch with authority against a rushing lineman. The bag weighs 38 pounds.

Several young offensive linemen stood out as having good days as well. Despite not having a true test of being in full pads guys like Oscar Gonzalez, Nathan Farrow and true freshman Mike Berry all look the part and should provide solid depth down the road if needed.

Defensively the Tigers were without several starters as both Marquies Gunn and Quentin Groves missed Thursday's practice because of final exams. That meant extra work for the young players up front as Octavious Balkcom and Antonio Coleman worked with the first team. On the second team Zach Clayton and Bryant Miller held down much of the action. For Clayton it was another day of learning and much better than day one as a Tiger.

"It's going good," Clayton said. "It was a little better than yesterday. Yesterday was a little rusty. Today I was kind of catching on. I had a little trouble with some stuff but I'm working through it. I'm working for everything right now just trying to get used to the techniques.

"It's good to see them and learn from them," he added about the veterans. "It's also good to get in there and be able to experience it firsthand also."

Up to 272 pounds after playing his senior year at 250 or a little less at times, Clayton said that he's adjusting to his new weight nicely at the moment. A smart player that understands football, Clayton said that the toughest part of things at the moment is keeping up the with the learning that must occur every day under new coordinator Will Muschamp.

"It's a lot different," Clayton said. "It's a lot more technical. There are a lot more reads. You have to keep your eyes on the offense and what is going on. I'm feeling good about my extra weight right now. That should help me have more stability. I'm hoping it will be good."

Kicker John Vaughn returned to practice on Thursday after attending a funeral for a family member on Wednesday in Nashville. Not missing a beat, the senior was a perfect 3-3. Also perfect was sophomore Zack Kutch, who was also 3-3. Walk-on kicker Matt Clark made his only attempt.

Thursday was the first day of special teams work as the Tigers worked on the punt game. A question many have is who the Tigers will have returning punts this season. Thursday several players got into the action catching balls as Tre Smith, Robert Dunn, Tim Hawthorne, Lee Guess and Courtney Taylor all caught balls under the watchful eye of wide receiver Coach Greg Knox.

There is little doubt that Auburn has the nation's top punting tandem in seniors Kody Bliss and Patrick Martyn. Both were booming punts that averaged close to 50 yards. Martyn has the chance to be the best punter nobody has ever heard of before he leaves his career at Auburn.

Tiger Ticket Extra:

Potentially one of the nation's top safety prospects for the Class of 2008 paid a visit to check out Auburn's practice on Thursday as Auburn High School's Dee Finley watched almost the entire two-hour practice in blazing heat. Checking out the defense and asking questions about players, Finley was very attentive as he watched Will Muschamp put his troops through the paces.

Finley is a physical player who will be a force for the Tigers.

At 6-2, 205 with 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, Finley is a headhunter that can bring the heat. The best evidence of that is last season's game against Benjamin Russell High when he knocked new Auburn tight end Michael Goggans out of the game with a big hit. Looking strongly at Georgia Tech because of former Auburn High teammate Dominque Reese, Finley will be a player to watch next season and could challenge Julio Jones for top honors in Alabama next year.

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