Tigers Trying to "Grind 'Em and Find 'Em"

Auburn's head football coach see positives and areas for concern with his team after Saturday's practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Tommy Tuberville notes that he liked Saturday's practice, but all things considered Auburn's head football coach says his highly-ranked team is still a work in progress. And a wounded one, too.

"We are not hitting on all cylinders by any means, but guys are working hard," he says. "We are going to have about four more practices that will basically be spring practices, about like we have been doing with not much work on anything other than trying to get better. Then at the end of the week we will start working on Washington State."

The morning after a Friday evening 104-play scrimmage, the Tigers concentrated on correcting mistakes after the coaching staff analyzed the scrimmage video on Friday night. Overall, the head coach gave the workout a thumbs up.

The disappointing part of Saturday's session is that so many key players were held out or limited in what they were allowed to do. "It was a M*A*S*H unit out there today," Tuberville says. However, he adds that he doesn't plan to back off the physical part of practices because players are hurt.

"We are not very good right now," he says. "We have got to practice. We could go out there and go in shorts and keep our fingers crossed that other people play down to our level. That is not going to happen so we have got to just keeping pushing through it.

"I guess it was one of the most physical two-a-days we have had, but when you are playing so many young guys they have got to mentally get ready to play this game," Tuberville says of the preseason. "They have got to have self-discipline. They have got to understand what they are getting into. You don't want to get caught by surprise. What they are seeing now, they won't see anything tougher when they get to a game."

Will Herring was at practice on Saturday, but the senior linebacker was limited in what he did after his hamstring got tight after Friday's scrimmage.

Some of the injuries that have Tuberville concerned are to key players. Projected starting left tackle King Dunlap left practice early with what the coach says he believes are back spasms. Another offensive lineman, top backup at guard and tackle, Leon Hart, is not expected back for a week with a pulled abdominal muscle. Because of that and with reserve tackle Oscar Gonzalez out with a dislocated toe, Nall continues to work true freshman Mike Berry at tackle and also gave starting offensive guard Ben Grubbs some work at tackle along with Andrew McCain.

Backup offensive guard Tyronne Green has missed practice with the flu this week, but is expected back soon. Backup center Jason Bosley joined the injured list with an ankle problem.

Starting cornerback David Irons, who suffered a hamstring pull during two-a-days, was running well on Saturday and could be cleared for full contact in the next couple of days. However, starting strongside linebacker Will Herring was held out of Saturday's contact work because he noted his hamstring muscle felt tight.

The other starting cornerback, Jonathan Wilhite, was held out of practice after suffering a hand injury in Friday's scrimmage. He continued to play after the injury, but will have his hand X-Rayed to make sure there is not a broken bone. Backup cornerback Walter McFadden didn't finish practice due to cramps.

Others on the injury list include true freshman safety Zaccheus Etheridge and sophomore linebacker Merrill Johnson, who was singled out for his excellent play in the scrimmage. Etheridge has a hip pointer, but should be available soon notes his position coach, Will Muschamp. Johnson's position coach, James Willis, says he doesn't believe Johnson's injury is serious.

Another injured Tiger, wide receiver Courtney Taylor, was running well on Saturday and should be full speed soon after going down with a knee sprain during two-a-days.

Commenting on Saturday's practice, Tuberville says, "It was a pretty good grind today. Coach (Hugh) Nall's new slogan is ‘grind 'em and find 'em.' You find the ones who are going to be there in tough times. It was hot, muggy and guys were hurting and sore, but that is what summer camp is about--getting ready to play. Three weeks from today (11:30 a.m. kickoff at Mississippi State) we will be playing in this heat."

The Tigers open in two weeks with a home night game vs. Washington State. Tuberville says he plans to continue to push his team. "We are not as good mentally in shape yet as we need to be to be able to fight this heat," he says. "We are going to grind pretty good next week and hopefully we can overcome where we are at."

In other news from Saturday:

*The Tigers will be back on the practice field on Sunday and take a day off on Monday before returning to another workout on Tuesday morning.

*Sophomore walk-on wide receiver Rodgeriqus Smith worked with the first team on Saturday as he continues to be impressive. He is following up a strong spring performance with a better one in preseason. Offensive coordinator Al Borges says the best player will start, regardless whether he is a walk-on or not. Seniors Courtney Taylor and Lee Guess are the projected starters at the other two wideout spots.

*Projected starting linebacker Karibi Dede (shoulder) practiced but is not allowed to have contact.

*Tuberville says after watching video of the scrimmage, it was an improvement over the first one of the preseason. He notes the defensive tackles had a good performance as did linebacker Merrill Johnson. Also on defense, end Quentin Groves performed well and the coach notes the safeties made some mental mistakes. "We knew that was going to happen," he says. "Hopefully, we will get those out of our system."

*Offensively, Tuberville says he was not pleased with five dropped passes by the receivers, but notes there were also some good catches. He singled out running back Carl Stewart for praise.

*In the kicking game, punters Kody Bliss and Patrick Martyn "were outstanding," the coach notes. He also says that John Vaughn solidified his hold on the No. 1 spot as the field goal kicker while senior walk-on Matt Clark locked down the kickoff assignment.

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