"He's a center with experience and it is crucial to have him out there," Auburn offensive line coach Hugh Nall says. "That is where the chemistry starts. It is amazing how much smoother things seem to work when he is in there."
Auburn's number one center catches his breath at the end of Saturday's practice. Joe Cope is a returning starter from last season's team.
With Cope back in the lineup along with guards Tim Duckworth and Ben Grubbs, who also missed some practice time with minor injuries, the Tigers had their projected starting linemen on the field for 11 on 11 work on Saturday with Jonathan Palmer moving back to right tackle from center and King Dunlap at left tackle.
"Not taking away from anybody else, but you take a guy (Jonathan Palmer) from where he has working and focusing at tackle for a while and he is at center and putting somebody new in at tackle your chemistry across the board isn't as good," Nall says.
"It may be a little bit of blessing in a disguise that we have been able to work some different combinations," says Nall, who adds, "But I was glad to get Joe back. I thought he did some good things today."
Cope says it was good to be snapping the football again after rehabbing a knee problem.
"It was fun today," he says. "I am a little tired so I have got to get back in shape again." Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) and Arnold (trainer Arnold Gamber) and his staff having been running me, but it is not the same as being out there practicing.
"I have to start trusting my knee again, getting that strength back in it," Cope says. "After the first two or three plays were over with it wasn't even bothering me any more. It just feels a little weak sometimes, but other than that the adrenaline was going and I was ready to play."
Commenting on how close to 100 percent he is now, Cope says, "I am in the 90s. I am close. It is one of those injuries that is nagging. If I take a wrong step, it will hurt a little bit, but nothing too bad."
Cope snaps the ball to QB Brandon Cox during Saturday's practice. In the background are defensive line coaches Don Dunn (left) and Terry Price (right).
Cope says despite losing starting tackles Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick, he has high hopes for the offensive line being a successful group in 2006. "Every year our coaches do such a good job of recruiting we just reload," he says. "We lost Troy and Marcus and those guys were good. We are going to trying to get it going again. JP is a veteran and I think King will get the job done at tackle, too."
The Tigers led the SEC in offense last year. Cope has high expectations for this season's group.
"We have big, physical receivers and our running backs are looking good," he tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. (Brandon) Cox is a smart quarterback so he will be able to check us (audibiles) and our line is gelling so I think we will be good again on offense. I think we will have one of the best offenses in the country. That is always your goal to be the best. We are going to try to do that and try to stay physical."
Fellow senior Grubbs says, "It feels so good having Joe back. He has got a great personality. Even though he is tired, he is still talking it up. He picks me up a lot. He picks the whole line up because the center is classified as the leader of the offensive line.
"Having JP (Palmer) back at right tackle lets him work on his technique so he can get ready for Washington State," Grubbs adds.
Having the five projected starters together boosts the group's confidence, Grubbs contends. "If you see me, you are going to see Duck. If you see Duck, you are going to see JP so we are all a family and to have that family unity out there on the field means a lot because we all have trust and faith in each other."