For the Tigers, the big picture was a continuation of where things left off in the spring with domination by the defense.
"It was a good first practice in pads," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "The defense definitely won today. The enthusiasm is still there. The guys are trying to get better. We had our goal line period right at the end today. Every day we're going to have some kind of live drills to give our offensive and defensive newcomers an opportunity to see what it's like full speed. We've got a long ways to go, but overall it was a good first day in pads."
After being routinely beaten earlier in the practice during an inside running drill that features the offensive backs, tight ends and offensive line going against the defensive line, linebackers and a strong safety, the defense sought redemption and that came in the form of a dominant goal line session. Working both the first team and second team in head-to-head series, the offense could manage but two scores out of 17 plays, one coming on a Daniel Cobb pass to Anthony Mix with the second unit and the other on a three-yard run by Tre Smith against the first team defense. (He barely made the goal line.)
Even though star tailback Carnell Williams was held out of the drill, it was still easy to tell which side of the ball was the dominant one on Sunday.
"I think the defense is bound and determined to make the offense better," Tuberville said. "You do that by just kicking their tail and they did that pretty good today."
The session featured extracurricular contact, too. The two sides tangled after linebacker Mark Brown and guard Danny Lindsey tied up following a play on the goal line scrimmage. Sparking several other battles among the first-teamers, the two were finally separated but not before things reached a fever pitch between the two sides in a battle that lasted approximately 30 seconds. The fights followed a crushing stop by the defense as strong safety Junior Rosegreen fired off the right side and leveled Smith in the backfield for a two-yard loss to send the defensive sideline into a frenzy.
"Coach (Gene) Chizik has it fun for us out there," senior cornerback Roderick Hood said following Sunday's practice. "We're playing his schemes and we're just going out there having fun. It makes it fun when we go at each other like that. We bring the best out of each other. Nobody is going to take it easy on us when we go to California or any other team we play so we're just trying to get after it out here.
"We see the offense and defense as different teams," he adds. "We're going at each other, but in the locker room we're all just one. We're trying to get better like that."
Tuberville again praised kickers Damon Duval and Philip Yost for their consistency to open fall practices. Sunday they continued their hot kicking with Duval a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals while Yost made 3-of-4. He lone miss was just a yard-and-a-half wide left.
Except for some excellent blocking up front by the offensive line early in the practice, the day wasn't good for the players on that side of the ball. The main area of focus continues to be at quarterback where Jason Campbell continues to outshine Daniel Cobb because of the senior's tendency to force the ball into coverage.
"We're still making way too many mistakes," Tuberville noted. "I think Jason is throwing the ball better than Daniel right now, but that's still yet to be seen. I think one day one will do better than the other. It's going to be a close competition all the way and drills like we just had show leadership in the quarterbacks and we're watching all those little things that it's going to take for us to be more consistent."
Some of the reason for the unsteady play of the quarterbacks has been an improvement in the secondary, particularly at the cornerback position. In addition to Hood, who is entering his second season as a starter, the Tigers feature a freshman All-American returnee in Carlos Rogers. However, it goes deeper than that and it showed on Sunday as backups Lamel Ages and Horace Willis both had outstanding days in coverage situations.
"Basically the only thing I tried to do was play within the defense, play the techniques that Coach Chizik teaches us and just go out and get better," Ages says. "Unfortunately Carlos was unable to be out here today (minor sprain) so I just wanted to step in and play within the defense." Willis picked off a Campbell pass during an 11-on-11 session while Ages had two interceptions on the day on balls thrown by Cobb. His play and the play of his counterparts didn't go unnoticed by the head man.
Roderick Hood talks with his position coach, Phillip Lolley, during Sunday's practice.
"I'm real impressed with out DBs," Tuberville notes. "We're playing with a lot of confidence in the secondary. But, we still have a lot to work on though. If one group is doing good you always wonder whether the other one is any good or not. We've still just got a long ways to go."
In addition to Rogers, several other Tigers missed some or all of Sunday's practice. Junior fullback Brandon Johnson gave the coaches a scare early when he looked to be holding his shoulder in pain, but it turned out to be just a pulled back muscle. He's expected to return to action by the middle of the week. The same is true of offensive tackle Taylor Bourgeois, who twisted his shoulder during a drill. Missing on Sunday were Joe Walkins, Michael Owens and Dexter Murphy, who all are nursing mild ailments and should return on Monday. The same is true of linebacker Dontarrious Thomas, who missed Sunday's practice with headaches after a helmet to helmet hit on Saturday.
The Tigers return to the practice fields on Monday with an 8:30 a.m. workout on the intramural fields. The team will then come back out at 4:45 for the second practice of the day. Both practices are open to the public.