Auburn, Ala.--The return of several key players to practice and a position move highlighted a two-hour practice in full pads Tuesday morning for the Auburn Tigers as they close in on the season opener with Washington State. Coach Tommy Tuberville says the practice was very good because of it had several things that had been lacking in recent days.
"It was a good practice," Tuberville says. "We had good concentration. It was a good mental practice with good leadership today. It was probably one of the better one's we've had. Obviously the day off helped. We'll go back at it the same way tomorrow."
Continuing a trend of physical practices that have tested his team to its limits, Tuberville says that there was a lot of good news on Tuesday as several important players returned to the practice fields and all looked to be pushing through the pain and close to 100 percent. With the defense wearing their new Under Armour jerseys to test them for fit and feel Tuberville says the practice went very well.
"It was a good practice today," Tuberville says. "It was very physical. We got a few guys back. Leon Hart was out there. Tyronne Green, Will Herring, Merrill Johnson, Courtney Taylor all looked pretty good. The guys were running around. It was a little cooler this morning and we were able to keep their attention a lot longer.
"We are starting to put more team in," he adds. "We did a live kickoff coverage today to get that on film. We're getting closer to finding a depth chart and hopefully we'll have that in the next couple of days. There is no reason to make one until we get a couple more guys back and see where they're at."
Jonathan Wilhite will need some alteration on his jersey, most notably the spelling of his name.
Despite having several players still out on defense both Herring (hamstring) and Johnson (ankle) returned to give the linebackers some continuity and Zaccheus Etheridge (hip pointer) was back at safety. Offensively it has been tough with Hart and Greene out and Tuberville says he's glad to see some guys get back on the field.
"We've been hurting at offensive line," Tuberville says. "Guys have been having to go both reps. J.P. (Jonathan Palmer), Duckworth (Timmy Duckworth), and Grubbs (Ben Grubbs) have been having to roll in and out. Those guys are getting worn down. They just needed some help."
With the depth at running back overflowing and looking for a playmaker at the wide receiver position true freshman Mario Fannin was moved to the slot receiver for Tuesday morning's practice. Despite his strong build at 5-11, 214, the former high school quarterback has wide receiver skills and Tuberville says he was impressed by what he saw today.
"He looked good catching the ball and has real good hands," Tuberville says. "We haven't given up on him playing a lot of special teams. Obviously it's going to be while before he can play wide receiver, just to learn what he's doing. We've been thinking about it. He has been wanting to do it. We felt like it was time to get it done."
Another player learning on the fly is massive defensive tackle Greg Smith. Wearing the number 96 the junior college transfer is trying to learn Auburn's defense while also getting in shape and going to class. It's a lot of work for anybody but position Coach Don Dunn says that Smith had his best day on Tuesday and is improving but still has a long way to go.
Big Greg Smith fills out his number 96.
There are still several players out of practice that won't play the first game. Linebacker Steve Gandy is still recovering from surgery and the timetable for his return is unknown. Offensive tackle Oscar Gonzalez is still bothered by a dislocated toe and won't play in the opener Tuberville says. Defensive end Darrell Roseman, who was thought to be having shin splints, is out with a stress fracture in his shin and will redshirt.
Auburn will practice Wednesday and Thursday in full pads and having contact before the coaches begin to pull back in preparation for the opener. Having 22 practices under their belts already with many the physical variety, the team is getting worn down but Tuberville says that they'll still have a few more days to get better before pulling back the reigns and working on the gameplan for the Cougars.
"Now that we know a little bit more about our team we can tweak it to what you can do and can't do," Tuberville says. "We've got it pretty much carded up and ready to go. All we have to do is start introducing it to the scout team and start feeding it to them slowly. We'll start that probably Thursday.
"That's what makes you better," Tuberville says of the physical work his team continues to go through. "We won't get better much after the end of the week because then we'll be just putting stuff in. We're still working a lot of technique."