Auburn, Ala.--A hot and humid morning greeted the Auburn Tigers on Tuesday as they continue preparations for the season opener Saturday night against Washington State. Offensive coordinator Al Borges says that the team had another good practice but it was a tough one to get through because of the suffocating conditions facing the team.
"It has gone pretty good," Borges says. "Today we threw a few different looks at them. We did some goal line today. We did goal line all two-a-days but that's the first time we've really practiced it against some of the looks we thought we were going to see. There were a few growing pains there. For the most part in the three or four days we've done it we've done a pretty good job with it."
Scout team work is always a transition for the coaches and players because it is imperative the first-team offense and defense continue to work at a brisk pace to keep sharp for the game. That's something that Borges says is the toughest thing for a team to learn at the beginning of the season.
"One of the biggest challenges in coaching is trying to get your first unit to compete against the scouts," he says. "It's not hard to get your first unit, generally, to compete against your defense because if they don't they just get smoked. The first unit will tend to be a little condescending towards the scout team and you won't get their best effort. You have to stay on them all the time about competing against the scouts like they compete against the starting defense."
Tuesday saw a change on that starting defense with the first depth chart released of the fall as redshirt freshman defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks was named to the first team ahead of sophomore Pat Sims. While Sims has gotten much of the attention in preseason camp Marks has quietly put together a fantastic month. Coach Don Dunn says that it's still a fluid situation but a finger injury to Sims has thrust Marks into the limelight for Washington State.
"It's back and forth right now between he and Pat," Dunn says. "Pat has a bad finger that is really causing him problems. It's an infected finger. It's worse than we thought probably and they took the nail off yesterday. That's tough to stick your hands in there. I don't know the whole details yet. He just talked to me after practice. We've just got to make a decision after tomorrow's practice."
Despite the injury Sims will play Saturday night and likely play a great deal. Dunn says that he'll have a four-man rotation ready in the middle with Josh Thompson and Tez Doolittle at nose guard. If a fifth player is needed Dunn says it would be true freshman Jermarcus Ricks, who has moved ahead of Mike Blanc in the pecking order because of his size and push up front.
"Right now one does some things better than the other but Pat is a little more physical," Dunn says. "Sen'Derrick is probably a better athlete. They're both going to play. They're both going to play a lot and the same with Josh and Tez. We're going to roll them. It's going to be hot and humid. It's going to be a tough game against a very good offense. All four are going to play. If I could play them 50-50 it would be a perfect world. We're trying to bring Jermarcus Ricks along. We would like to redshirt him but we're probably not going to be able to. It's a long season."
Under the direction of first-year coordinator Will Muschamp, Auburn's defense has spent an extraordinary amount of time before, during and after practices getting ready for Washington State's attack. That has included a lengthy walk-through before each practice since the team moved from the intramural fields to the regular practice fields. Linebacker Will Herring says because of that it's up to the veterans on the defense to keep the young guys up to speed and he wasn't happy with Tuesday's performance.
"It's up to the leaders on defense to bring the guys together," Herring says. "Today was a hot day. The heat was getting to a lot of people, including myself. As a senior and a leader on the defense I've got to pick it up. Today we were sluggish because it was hot and guys were dragging. We've got to find a way to push through it."
One of the players Herring singled out as having a good week is junior safety Eric Brock. The lone returning safety with starting experience, Brock is one of the leaders in the defensive backfield for Muschamp and has been counted on to help young players such as Aairon Savage mature and get ready for the season. Brock says that he feels like the defense is coming together nicely despite a rough day on Tuesday.
"It's going rather well for the defense," Brock says. "Today we had a very hot day out there. A lot of guys had to dig down inside and push through the day. It was a big mental focus day especially for the secondary. We had to grow up out there because a lot of guys haven't been out there. It required a lot of focus."
The Tigers will practice Wednesday afternoon and again Thursday morning and will have almost two full days of rest leading up to Saturday night's 6:45 kickoff on ESPN2. It will be the first meeting ever between Auburn and Washington State.