The final 30 minutes of practice were devoted to special teams, particularly kickoff returns, something that coach Tommy Tuberville says will be an improved area for the Tigers this season.
Willis runs a cone drill at Tuesday morning's practice.
Back on the field practicing were several bodies missing on Monday. Among those were defensive tackles Demarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson, both of whom are coming back from knee injuries last season. Tuberville says the coaches are going to be careful with them and several other veterans including Joe Walkins (groin) and Carlos Rogers (ankle) to make sure they are healthy and 100 percent going into Saturday's scrimmage. The same is true of defensive end Reggie Torbor. The junior is battling an ankle sprain and is expected to return to practice on Wednesday.
One player who knows all too well what ankle sprains can do to a season is senior wide receiver Marcel Willis. After having successful freshman and sophomore seasons, he entered last fall ready to take over for the departed Ronney Daniels as the main man at receiver and lead the passing attack. However, that never materialized as he suffered a severe ankle sprain in Auburn's first scrimmage of the fall and was never able to recover fully for the entire season after re-injuring it everytime he appeared close to get back to full speed.
"I'm healthy," Willis says with a big smile. "I'm rusty because it's been a year off basically. I'm starting to get out here and get the hang of it again. I'm feeling good. I'm enjoying practice again. I remember one time when I was a freshman in high school, I hurt myself and they moved me to defensive end. It was like that again last year because I was so frustrated. It made me think a whole different aspect about football. I'm just glad it's better now."
There is also an improvement in the offense, at least through his eyes as a wide receiver. Sometimes restricted in the things they could do in the passing game, Willis says the receivers have some advantages in Coach Bobby Petrino's system that they haven't had before.
"We have more options," he notes. "There are many options on each route. You have options either side of a route. You can turn one route into another route while running. We've never had to read like that in the past so it gives us many more options."
While the defense has normally gotten the best of the offense in team situations, Willis says he's not concerned about how they look now, but how they improve over the coming weeks. He and the offense get their first real chance to show their stuff when the Tigers hold a situational scrimmage Wednesday afternoon to give the offense and defense a chance to work in a controlled environment of down and distance. Willis says he believes the coming weeks will tell the tale for his group.
"The defense is going to be the strength of our team and practicing against them is going to make us that much better," Willis says. "So I think we are pretty much on track. During the spring we were looking a little rusty. We're out here clicking some now. We're completing passes, moving the ball down field. I think when we do a little scrimmaging that will improve a little more."
The Tigers return to the practice field Tuesday evening for a light full-pad workout in advance of Wednesday's scrimmage action. Wednesday the team will have its normal learning practice in the morning beginning at 8:30 before going back out for a scrimmage at 4:45. The team will continue two-a-days through Friday before Saturday morning's 8:30 scrimmage wraps up the grueling week of work. The Tigers will then practice Sunday before taking Monday off for the first day of class. Tuesday brings the beginning of normal practices for the Tigers on the practice field behind the athletic complex. Practices until Sunday, which will be held on the intramural fields, are open to the public.