Center's Return Energizes Saturday Practice

Center Joe Cope's return to practice on Saturday made for a good day for the offense.

Auburn, Ala.--Saturday the Auburn Tigers had what Coach Tommy Tuberville called the best practice in three or four days as Joe Cope returned to the offensive line to give the Tigers their first look at the complete unit since early in preseason practice.

Tuberville was also pleased the that medical report on star wide receiver Courtney Taylor is a positive one after he was injured on Friday. Taylor was examined on Saturday by surgeon Dr. James Andrews. "He is going to be fine and will be back soon," Tuberville said. "He just has a sprained knee."

Tuberville said that the return of Cope to the lineup made a positive difference in Saturday's practice and notes that having him ouw can be beneficial down the road.

"It was a much better offensive line," Tuberville said. "You've got to have some consistency there. We haven't had any the first 12 practices with guys in and out. It's good because you get to play your backup center for a while. We moved over Jonathan Palmer to get some different looks. That's what two-a-days are about, kind of a mini spring practice. Once school starts (Wednesday) we have to start getting some consistency for the guys in the spots they're going to play."

Tight end Tommy Trott works against defensive end Quentin Groves in a one-on-one drill.

Looking a little rusty but competing hard, Cope was back at center with the first team with Palmer back at right tackle. Guard Timmy Duckworth was also back for a portion of the practice but split time with Nathan Farrow with the first team to give him some rest. Leon Hart missed Saturday's practice with a strained abdominal muscle while Antwoin Daniels was out with a bruised kneecap.

Quarterback Brandon Cox said it was great to have Cope back because he's just a leader for the unit.

"It went good," Cox said. "Like Coach (Al) Borges said when we brought it up, the offensive line had a heck of a day and they're all back now and you can tell. They did a great job with pass protection and run blocking today. We had to struggle a little bit those last practices but having him back really helps.

"Joe played all last year and he knows what he's doing," he added. "It was good getting JP some reps just to have a quality backup. Joe is going to be the guy. It's good having him back."

While several players returned to practice on Saturday the Tigers lost another starter as cornerback David Irons injured a hamstring during one-on-one drills and sat out the remainder of the practice. Tuberville said he should return in a few days as should both Marquies Gunn (hamstring) and Tez Doolittle (Achilles). Safety Lorenzo Ferguson continues to miss time with a dislocated shoulder and there is no timetable for his return.

Offensively the Tigers are looking to shore up the passing game with receiver Courtney Taylor out for a while with a knee sprain.

Montez Billings makes a catch and runs for yardage.

With Taylor sidelined for what is expected to be at least a week, Cox must look for other weapons at the receiver position. Saturday Prechae Rodriguez and Montez Billings worked with the first team and Billings responded with several nice grabs during 11-on-11 work. The tight ends also stepped up big with Tommy Trott snaring a Cox pass for a 20-yard touchdown during red zone action.

The practice came to an end Saturday with the customary kicking portion of the workout. This time things were different though as instead of kicking through goalposts the kickers were forced to try something new. On each end of the fields the Tigers practice on there are portable towers that extend high into the air for videotaping practice. Tuberville said that if one of the kickers threaded the needle on the tower then the team wouldn't have to run wind sprints.

From distances of 30 and 35 yards John Vaughn, Zach Kutch and Matt Clark all kicked the ball solid but didn't hit the target. That was still the case as Vaughn's first attempt from 46 yards was off target as well. Kutch then came through as he bounced his try through the hole to set off a celebration among his teammates. Tuberville said he was happy with the practice and noted they got a lot done on the field.

"We had a solid practice today," he stated. "I thought the guys came out focused pretty good. We added a little short yardage to what we've been doing. We've done two-minute and we've got a few more things to add offensively. Defensively we won't start adding things until we start school.

"It's the best practice we've had in three or four days," said Tuberville, who had originally planned to have a scrimmage on Saturday but postponed it due to injuries. "I would like to scrimmage soon, but we're not going to jam it in there to say we're scrimmaging. I haven't even thought about what we're going to do. We just have to wait and let the trainers let us know when we've got enough to go."

The Tigers will watch film on Saturday afternoon and have almost a full 24 hours off before returning to practice Sunday at 4:30. Practices are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday as well before the team takes Wednesday off for the first day of classes.

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