Tempers Flare at First Full Pads Practice

A detailed report on Auburn's fifth preseason football practice is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Day five of preseason football practice at Auburn featured the first full pads session as Coach Tommy Tuberville put his Tigers through 49 plays of 11 on 11 drills on Sunday evening at the intramural fields.

The Tigers also had one on one contact drills earlier in the session that lasted for 2 hours and 20 minutes before the entire team had to run wind sprints for the first time this preseason because the kickers missed their field goals to end the workout.

The session also featured a half of dozen fights and/or scuffles, a not that unusual occurrence during the heat of August practice. Tuberville didn't seem concerned about that.

"We had a couple of fights," he said. "We have got guys competing for positions. There is going to be a lot of competition for the next couple of weeks. I like the spirit and enthusiasm. We have got a lot of work to do."

Nobody was hurt in any of the scuffles. "You like to see people competing," Tuberville said. "It is nothing but a pushing match until the helmets come off and then we break it up. They are getting a little hot and tired and they are trying to do well."

The head coach added that overall he is pleased with what he has seen so far, but declined to single out any players for praise other than senior offensive guards Tim Duckworth and Ben Grubbs plus junior defensive end Quinton Groves. He noted that he liked the leadership those three have been showing.

"The team drills are going good," the coach said. "We are having a problem with the center with Joe Cope out. It looks like he will be back by mid-next week (Wednesday or Thursday). It is good having these young guys having to snap the ball and find some guys who are going to be backups and possibly try to get into the lineup."

Junior Carl Stewart runs behind senior Jonathan Palmer, who played tackle and center on Sunday.

The Tigers will have a chance to get out of the heat on Monday with no practice scheduled, however, they will have meetings with their position coaches to go over mistakes made in the first five practices.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Merrill Johnson ran with the first team at middle linebacker in the 11 on 11 work. With Kevin Sears suspended and Karibi Dede missing practice time on Saturday with a dehydration problem, Johnson got work at MLB on Saturday and played there in the 11 on 11 on Sunday.

"It is going pretty good at middle linebacker," Johnson said. "Coach had given me a heads up that I might have to move to the middle. We made the adjustment that is best for the team and that is fine with me.

"I played middle linebacker in high school so I feel comfortable there," Johnson said. "When I came to Auburn I moved to will (weakside). There are a lot of things different about playing in the middle, but there are a lot of things that are the same, too. It is all about running to the football and banging heads."

Commenting on the overall defense, Johnson said, "We are doing pretty good, but we can play better. We are working for overall excellence. We are doing good, but we will do better."

Johnson said he didn't like seeing the fights. "It was hot out here and a few people let it get to them," he said. "Guys are out here competing and we are going to eliminate the fights."

Merrill Johnson (55) is shown at Sunday's practice. He missed most of spring drills due to injury, but he is back to full speed.

Johnson, who is known as a physical player, said with a smile that he is "really having fun" now that the full pads are on and there is more contact at practice.

*In the 11 on 11 work, King Dunlap worked with the first team even though the big tackle couldn't wear his padded pants because it was just his third day of practice after missing time to attend a funeral.

*Senior Jonathan Palmer, a projected starter at tackle, got work at center after there were exchange problems with backup centers Jason Bosley and Mike Berry, a true freshman. Starter Joe Cope, who suffered a knee sprain on Friday, said that he was thankful his injury wasn't any more serious than it turned out. He said that wearing a knee protection brace in practice problem prevented him from suffering a much worse fate.

*Defensive tackle Pat Sims was impressive in the one on one drills as well as the 11 on 11 work. It was one of his best days of drills since he got to Auburn.

*Backup offensive tackle Oscar Gonzalez, who suffered a dislocated toe in practice on Saturday, will be out for seven to eight days, Tuberville said.

Defensive ends coach Terry Price is shown talking with freshman Zach Clayton.

*First team defensive end Marquies Gunn tweaked a hamstring on Sunday, but the coach said the problem doesn't looked to be serious. The same is true of linebacker Steve Gandy, who bruised his quad muscle, the coach noted.

*Freshman defensive end Darrell Roseman is still sidelined with shin splints.

*Defensive line signee Greg Smith has not arrived from junior college. Tuberville said he expects him to be in this month, but isn't certain when that will be.

*After an impressive start on field goals to end the practice, the kickers missed their final four and the team had to run gassers as a result. John Vaughn made his kicks from 27, 36 and 41, but was wide left from 47. Zach Kutch was good from 27, 36 and 41, but was wide left from 47. Matt Clark was good from 27 and 36, but was wide left from 41 and 47 yards.

*Brandon Cox and Blake Field shared the reps in the 11 on 11 work while true freshmen Neil Caudle and Steven Ensminger made token appearances.

*Walk-on wide receiver Rodgeriqus Smith made an impressive catch in the skelly drills. That pumped up his position coach, Greg Knox, who was unhappy with the receivers' play on Saturday.

*Receiver Montez Billings had another good practice catching the ball. He also caught a long pass on a tip drill play while sandwiched between cornerback David Irons and safety Aairon Savage.

*Offensive line coach Hugh Nall had a high five for walk-on fullback Andrew Turman making a dominating block on a running play.

*Backup punter Patrick Martyn had a good day punting the ball with excellent hang time.

*True freshman tailback Ben Tate continues to look impressive in practice. He had a slobber-knocker block on an inside drill play and showed his speed when running on the corner.

*Another true freshman who is doing well this week is linebacker Craig Stevens. In Saturday's notes, we mentioned that former Tiger star LB Quentin Riggins really liked his instincts after watching him in practice. James Willis is also impressed. He gave him some work today at weakside linebacker with the first team.

*The coach of the number one ranked high school football team in the country, Rush Propst of Hoover High, visited Auburn's practice today and had a long chat with Tuberville. Propst's team begins preseason practice on Monday as the defending 6A state champion.

*Auburn's coaches told players before Sunday's full pads practice that everything they did during the session was going to be carefully analyzed by the coaching staff who will have plenty of time to study the practice tapes with Monday being a day off for practice. The players were told that nobody's starting job is safe.


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