Football Tigers Busy and Healthier

A report on Auburn's Wednesday evening football practice is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers had one of their longer football practices of the preseason on Wednesday evening as they began installing the game plan for the Sept. 2nd opener vs. Washington State and continued to have what the head coach noted was a physical workout.

"It was a good finish up to really one of the last practices that we will totally go against each other," Tuberville said after the workout that lasted close to three hours. "It has been very physical--hard on our guys. We are getting tired."

The theme of the week of getting injured players back on the practice field continued. Offensive tackle Oscar Gonzalez (dislocated toe) and linebacker Steve Gandy (compartment syndrome) are not ready to practice and are exceptions.

"It was a pretty good day of practice considering we had a little rain and lightning, but the focus was there," Tuberville said. "I think the cooler weather really helped. We almost had a full group out there. They might not have all been full speed, but it looks like we had almost a full group of potential players, which is the first time since the first day we started."

Gandy is definitely out for the opener after dropping 20 pounds following surgery, but he was at the practice on Wednesday and Tuberville said he is encouraged by how Gandy is doing after having a foot-long surgical incision cut into his leg earlier this month.

"He has got to get back in physical shape," Tuberville noted. "His range of motion is good...It is hard to predict. It could be a month, it could be two months, it could be two weeks."

Fullback Mike McLaughlin participated in drills, but is still recovering from spring knee surgery. Tuberville said the back is about a month away from being able to contribute in games.

Tuberville noted that he has been closely watching the running backs in recent workouts and said they did a good job of blocking on the blitz drills on Wednesday. "They are in good shape physically and mentally and their pass protection is good. We make it hard on our running backs in our blitz drills. We don't let them cut and block below the waist. They have to block high.

"Blocking a 260-pound defensive end coming full speed sometimes when you are 200 is a little unfair, but I think it has made them tougher," the coach said. "It has made them have a sense of urgency about pass blocking for the blitz, which we didn't do as well last year. I think we will be a much better protection team against the blitz."

Offensive line coach Hugh Nall watches seniors Tim Duckworth and Jonathan Palmer push a blocking sled in Wednesday's practice.

Tuberville said after Wednesday's practice the Tigers are still waiting to find out the status of 2006 wide receiver signee Alex Rose from Jacksonville, Fla. "I heard rumors that he was cleared," Tuberville stated. "He has not been cleared. I hear he that heard from them, but there are still some things they are having to work through to see if he will be a possible Auburn Tiger in the next week or so.

"If he is going to come he better hurry. We are still in the drop/add period, but it ends up the first of next week."

Tuberville said the NCAA Clearinghouse is still evaluating Rose's transcript to see if he can be a qualifier or one of those Stanley McClover partial qualifier deals. Then he has to get in school here," the coach added. "There are a lot of hurdles he has to go through depending on how they are going to rate him. I would say they will do it in the next 24 hours because they know the drop and add is right here."

Linebackers Merrill Johnson (55) and Karibi Dede (21) are shown at Wednesday's practice. Dede, a senior, is projected to start at weakside linebacker while sophomore Johnson is running number one at middle linebacker. Dede has been cleared for full contact after being limited by a shoulder problem for more than a week.

Offensive line coach Hugh Nall has been frustrated by injuries with his group, but in recent workouts the projected starting five of Tim Duckworth, Ben Grubbs, Joe Cope, Jonathan Palmer and King Dunlap have been back on the field.

"It is coming along," Tuberville said of the OL play. "We were very inconsistent with execution because we didn't have everybody out here. Hugh Nall has not had the same offensive line for three or four days yet until this point of time."

"I think we made a little progress in the past few days. Are were there yet? No. We are not there. We are going to be a work in progress throughout the season because we haven't had the consistency in scrimmages and full speed work.

"I like the potential. Offense is 11 guys doing the right thing. When you don't have them all out there doing it together very much it is going to hurt your execution. We have a lot of work to do between now and a week from Saturday."

In other news:

*Quarterback Brandon Cox pointed out he has been impressed with the quickness he is seeing from the defense. "They aren't the biggest guys, but they have the speed to make up for it," he noted. "They hit like they are big guys. They give us a lot of different looks compared to last year." The secondary, featuring players like safety Aairon Savage, has made a point to be more physical than last season, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said.

On Wednesday, the committee that presents the Manning Award to the top college quarterback in the country named Cox to its watch list that includes 22 players. Last year's winner was Vince Young of Texas.

*Cox and the offense worked on both their four-minute hurry-up offense and their two-minute hurry-up offense.

*The Tigers will have a short turnaround before their next practice with a Thursday morning workout scheduled.

*The first offense worked on the passing and running games vs. the first defense and the seconds went against the seconds, but no tackling to the ground was allowed.

*Tuberville said he has been pleased with the kicking game in workouts. He noted that punters Kody Bliss and Patrick Martyn have impressed him as well as field goal man John Vaughn and kickoff specialist plus very long field goal kicker, Matt Clark. The coach said the staff plans to give the kickers three days off to rest their legs after keeping the busy the past month.

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