Auburn, Ala.--There was a new face and one familiar face in new surroundings on Sunday as true freshman wide receiver Alex Rose attended the practice in street clothes and fullback Michael McLaughlin was back on the field as the Auburn Tigers continued work towards Washington State with a two-hour practice in full pads.
Finally cleared late last week by the NCAA to join the team, Rose moved to Auburn over the weekend and joined the team on Sunday for his first practice. Unable to practice because he hasn't attended a class, Rose will join the team on the field for the first time Tuesday.
Back at practice and working with the offense once again was McLaughlin. Struggling in his return from a knee injury suffered in the spring, the redshirt sophomore hasn't returned to full speed but is working in practice fully for the first time since the injury. He's doubtful to play in the opener but could return to action within the next two weeks.
Alex Rose can practice Tuesday and Tuberville says will give them another quality scout team player to help the defense prepare while he's learning the position.
They weren't the only returning players for the Tigers as offensive tackle Oscar Gonzalez was back as well. Out since early in preseason practice because of a dislocated toe, Gonzalez worked as the number two right tackle in Sunday's practice. Coach Tommy Tuberville says it was good to see his team back at almost full speed as game week kicks into high gear.
"Today we went back to the drawing board," Tuberville says. "We worked on fundamentals for the first hour, did 40 minutes of kicking game and then 40 minutes on Washington State. That's pretty much all of the full speed work we do against each other.
"Oscar Gonzalez was at second team right tackle today," he adds. "He was rusty. Is he going to play this week? Coach (Hugh) Nall will have to make that decision. He was still hobbling a little bit on that toe. It's good to see him back out there and going again."
Guard Tyronne Green continues to be bothered by the remnants of a virus he had almost two weeks ago. Auburn's doctors still haven't cleared Green because his blood cell count is still off. Because of that it's unsure if he will be able to play in the season opener. Nall says that going into Saturday's game junior Leon Hart will be the top reserve at every position with the exception of center where Jason Bosley is the first man off the bench.
This week the Tigers will go into Jordan-Hare Stadium Wednesday night for a shortened mock game that will allow the players to become familiar with all their pre-game locations while allowing the coaches to work on substitutions, the kicking game, etc. It's also a chance to work on communication as the offensive coaches in the booth will remain the same.
Defensively there is no question that Coach Will Muschamp will be on the field to call plays and defenses from the sideline. After that there is some debate as to what will happen. Traditionally Don Dunn has been on the field for the Tigers with Terry Price in the booth. That would leave James Willis upstairs as well. Because of the injuries at linebacker Tuberville says that Willis may be on the field early in the season instead. Those are some of the things they'll work on and fine tune early in the year beginning Wednesday night with a test run at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"We're probably going to be a little bit different the first couple of weeks than we are the rest of the year," Tuberville says of the press box. "It's going to be the same on offense. We haven't determined yet what's going to happen defensively. I know Will is going to be on the field but we've been having some second thoughts about who is going to be up and down. When you're up you're pretty much glued in on half the line and linebackers. We want to make sure we get the right people up there."
No matter who is on the field or in the booth on defense they'll be watching a unit that has worked hard to learn Muschamp's system this spring and preseason. Tuberville says he's anxious to see the unit in action because it's not the same one Auburn fans are used to.
"Our players are excited," he says. "This is a little bit different than what we've done defensively. We're still going to look a lot the same, but there will be times when we won't. When you get something new like that it's just the anticipation of how it's going to work."
Sunday's practice is the final in full pads for the Tigers this week as they begin to back off the physical work in preparation for the season opener against Washington State. The team will take Monday off before returning to practice on Tuesday. Kickoff for the ESPN2 game against the Cougars is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. and Tuberville says he believes his team will be ready even after a very physical preseason schedule.
"We rolled the dice," Tuberville says. "We knew going in there were some areas where we were a little thin experience-wise. This has been about as tough a camp as we've had. We've limited our injuries. We're pretty beat up and we're tired. Some guys are still complaining about their legs. We lifted weights today. We're trying to get back in our normal routine.
"Tomorrow we're off," he adds. "We're not going to do a lot for the next six days. We won't totally pull the plug out but we want to make sure when we get to Friday the only thing we're thinking about is no our legs or how hot we are but the assignments we've got. The word this week is focus. We usually have a word of the week and we're just focusing on what we're supposed to do and how we're supposed to do it to be the best team we can be early in the season."