Offense Works On Improving Passing Game

A two-hour practice was just what the doctor ordered for the Auburn coaching staff as they installed new things on offense and defense.

Auburn, Ala.--The morning after a long and arduous scrimmage on Wednesday the Auburn Tigers got back into two-a-day mode Thursday with a two-hour practice in full pads that featured quite a bit of 11-on-11 work. Despite the long day yesterday Coach Al Borges said he was pleased with what he saw out of the team on another humid Auburn morning.

"I was pleasantly surprised after a 77-play scrimmage how much we came out and played hard," Borges said. "It would have been easy to go into the tank. I thought maybe we would have to pull teeth today, but they came out and responded pretty well on both sides of ball. It wasn't really pulling teeth, which says something about the leadership of the team."

Coaches always like to watch the video of a practice or game before really commenting on the performance of their team and Borges is no different. Sometimes though first impressions can be very good and he said that after watching things again he feels very much like he did following the scrimmage on Wednesday.

"I think we did a nice job of meshing out our zones on the line of scrimmage," Borges said. "We got a lot of plays started. We ran the ball well. We're behind on pass protection. We knew we were going to be. At this point you can't have it all yet and we decided we were going to pick getting better at running the ball yesterday. That's what we did. Now we're going to emphasize our passing game and we did that today. The kids really improved. That's our next step. After seven or eight days of practice you're not going to be good at everything. As coaches sometimes we get a little greedy but our focus was running it and we pretty much accomplished what we wanted."

To aid in the pass protection the Tigers made a move on the offensive line as true freshman Mike Berry moved to right tackle after playing center up to this point. A tackle in high school, Berry looked very comfortable at tackle playing behind Leon Hart, who appeared to have one of his better days at tackle this preseason. Antwoin Daniels made the move inside to guard and worked with Nathan Farrow behind Timmy Duckworth.

Mike Berry works against defensive end Antonion Coleman.

It was a good day for the change as both the offense and defense worked on installing new portions of the playbook. For the offense that meant putting in more passing game with the bunch package featured much of the day. Borges said that the day went well and has him hesitant about adding too much too soon on top of today's work.

"We put some in today," Borges said. "We put some of our two-by-two bunch in. We've been doing our three-by-one stuff and we put some of our two-by-two in today. We've got one more install to go and we'll start on a little empty stuff. I'm not sure when we'll do that. We made a little progress today so I hate to take a step backwards. I may wait on that until next week."

The reason for spoon feeding the offense is easy as quarterbacks Brandon Cox and Blake Field are the only signal-callers on the roster who have been in the offense before. For true freshmen Steven Ensminger and Neil Caudle things are tough as learning must be taken on the field and turned into action. Borges said that's the hardest part of things for a young player and it showed during Wednesday's scrimmage.

"They're just so far away," Borges said. "They're coming and certain little parts of their games have improved, but we're feeding them so much data that it's just too hard to take all that in and execute. You can take all that in and study and if you just gave them a test they would probably do okay but the problem with football is that it's not a test it's a lab. Out here in the lab they've got a ways to go."

The Tigers will return to action Thursday afternoon at 5:30 with the second practice of the day. It will be in shorts and shoulder pads. There is one practice scheduled for Friday morning and the only big scrimmage of the fall set for 10 a.m. on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Borges said he hopes to see some improvement in several areas when they hit the field that day.

"I want more balance and improve our passing because we're going to be a little more balanced next time," Borges said. "We're not going to run 50-something times. We're going to run, we're always going to run. We need to improve our protection and decision-making with the quarterbacks."

Will Herring tries to fight off a block by tight end Cole Bennett.

On the injury front the Tigers remain banged up at linebacker as Karibi Dede left practice early along with fellow linebacker Hendrick Leverette. Neither injury appeared serious but left the already thin unit short once again. Because of that true freshman Craig Stevens worked a great deal with the first unit on the weak side with Merrill Johnson in the middle and Will Herring on the strong side.

Defensive end Marquies Gunn (hamstring) and center Joe Cope (knee) both look closer to returning to practice and should rejoin the team sometime next week. Running back Mario Fannin was banged up during Wednesday's scrimmage and missed the morning practice. He's expected back during the afternoon session.

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