First Morning Practice Works Well For Tigers

Auburn practiced in the morning for the first time since school started and Coach Tommy Tuberville was pleased with the results.

Auburn, Ala.--It was a day of firsts for the Auburn Tigers as they had their first morning practice of the school year on Thursday as well as their first practice with junior college defensive tackle Greg Smith. Coach Tommy Tuberville said both were positive moves for the team as they continue working towards an opening night game against Washington State.

"It was a good day," Tuberville said. "It was the first time going early in the morning since classes started. I think it went off pretty well. We'll go a little bit longer than this normally because we've got to add about 15 minutes on to meeting times. We should be out off the field by 11:15 and that gives them a couple of hours to eat and get to class.

"It was a good practice today," he added. "It was up tempo. We started the 25-second clock to get a lot more team reps. There was less coaching on the field and more hustling back and concentrating on their own. We'll correct all the mistakes on the film."

For Smith the day was a good one as well. Finally on campus after going through two or three disappointing close calls in terms of academics, the 6-1 ¼, 345 Smith laced up his cleats for the first time as an Auburn Tiger on Thursday. While he can't suit up in full pads just yet Tuberville said they saw some good things out of the massive defensive lineman.

"Greg Smith was out there in only shorts and helmet," Tuberville said. "He's got to do that for three days and then he'll start shoulder pads on Sunday. He's a big young man that's got a lot of potential. He's not in nearly the shape he's going to need to be in.

"We'll work him slowly into that and start teaching him what to do. I think he's got a chance to help us if he can hold up and stay away from the injury bug and if we can get him in some kind of shape between now and the first couple of games."

Big Greg Smith takes in his first practice with the Tigers.

Because of his late start Tuberville said that he's still unsure what kind of role Smith will play for the Tigers early. That will be determined once the pads get on and they can see how much Smith has learned in the first few days of practice. Tuberville said one thing is for sure and that is Smith should be able to clog up the middle in this defense.

"He's pretty much a clone of Tommy Jackson with his quickness and upper body strength and lateral movement," Tuberville said. "He's got the ability but he's got to show that ability for several plays in a row. One or two plays won't get it. He's got to learn the mental part. I can see him having the opportunity to come out and help but it's not going to be a major part of our team probably for five or six games. There are some things he can learn."

On the injury front the Tigers continue to be banged up and this time it was the young crowd as Mike Blanc missed Thursday's practice because of a tooth infection. He's expected back Saturday at the latest. Running back Mario Fannin is out with a hip pointer and Tuberville said he'll likely be out a couple of days. Guard Tyronne Green is still out with a stomach virus but should return over the weekend.

The good news is that Antwoin Daniels was back practicing to give the offensive line more depth. Leon Hart is close to a return as well after missing several practices with a strained abdominal muscle. Wide receiver Courtney Taylor is close to a return as well and took on the role of a coach on Thursday as he helped position coach Greg Knox will substitutions and the mental game with the young players.

There was great news in Thursday's practice as well as Tuberville announced that walk-on defensive back Zach Gilbert was awarded a scholarship for his hard work and dedication to the program. A redshirt junior that has lettered each of the last two seasons, Gilbert looked into leaving the program last summer and had several scholarship offers from smaller schools. He decided to stick it out with Auburn though and Wednesday got what he's been looking for.

Gilbert has played in 22 games the last two seasons and had 14 career tackles with one interception.

"We put Zach Gilbert on scholarship," Tuberville said. "That's the only one we've got open right now. Pretty much we consider him a starter. He's paid his dues. He's been around a long time and worked hard. You want to reward somebody for that.

"He's going to play a big part of what we do on defense. This was the coaches' decision. I always let them make the decision of who we put on and who is next in line. He's been on the border the last few years. He got over the top of the fence this year. He was pretty elated."

The Tigers will practice Friday afternoon and follow that up with a long Saturday morning practice followed by a walk-through in the afternoon. They will practice again on Sunday before taking Monday off.

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