"It's good to get back and started," Tuberville says. "We had a very spirited, enthusiastic practice today. It's good to see our guys back. It has been a long three weeks out recruiting and getting ready for the bowl game, and also these guys finishing up academically."
With so much time off the Tigers spent much of the day working on fundamentals as a lengthy tackling session followed warm-ups with Coach Eddie Gran putting the special teams through the paces as well. Once the team split into offense and defense the practice went off without a hitch as both units worked on knocking the rust off with one-on-one drills as well as full team drills.
"Our players practiced very well today after being off for three weeks," Tuberville says. "The enthusiasm was there. They are excited about being finished with all of their finals. Now they can relax a little bit and get back as a family and a team working hard together. It's going to be a tough next six or seven days with practicing and lifting weights and running, doing the things they need to do to get better."
Several players missed all or a portion of Thursday's practices because of final exams. Among them was linebacker Tray Blackmon. With him out of the work sophomore Merrill Johnson worked with the first team on the weak side where he is a former starter.
Thursday was also a time to get an extended look at many of the young players on the team as they remained after the veterans left the field to work an extra 30 minutes. Offensively quarterbacks Blake Field, Neil Caudle and Steven Ensminger took the snaps with Ben Tate getting the bulk of the work at tailback. Receivers Tim Hawthorne, Terrell Zachery and Alex Rose all caught the ball well and made some nice plays as did tight end Michael Goggans.
Steven Ensminger fires a pass with offensive coordinator Al Borges looking on.
Up front Mike Berry worked at center and looked very good in blocking drills along with guard Byron Isom. Also working on the offensive line was redshirt freshman Bart Eddins. More of an experiment to see what he looked like on offense, Tuberville says that Eddins could move back to defense at any time if things don't go well on offense, but he's just one of the many young guys they're hoping to get a better feel for this week in practice.
"We want to try to get around 14 practices in for this game," Tuberville says. "We're going to do a lot of practicing with the younger players as we did today at the end of each practice. A lot of the guys that are redshirting or not playing will practice for 30 or 45 minutes and work on basics and fundamentals trying to get a jump on spring practice.
"We moved some guys around as we did Bart Eddins today. We moved him to the offensive line. Is that going to be permanent? We'll wait and see. He'll be an inside guy, maybe and center or guard, but we're just looking for some guys that might fit the mold of what we need on the offensive line with the graduation of several players.
"We're still looking," Tuberville adds on Eddins. "We felt like today just having enough guys to go through practice, enough younger guys, that is the reason we moved him over there. We might move somebody else and move him back in the next four or five practices. He was the first guy we wanted to look at and we'll look at him all the way probably until we go to Dallas and then we'll make the decision to move him back or move somebody else over."
Defensively, the front had a very good day as Mike Blanc, Jermarcus Ricks and Zach Clayton made plays in the middle as did junior college transfer Greg Smith. Appearing to have trimmed down to a more manageable weight, Smith showed flashes of playmaking ability when on the field. At end Alonzo Horton, Bryant Miller and Darrell Roseman all looked the part with Roseman a much bigger presence on the field than when he arrived at almost 260 pounds.
Up to 280 pounds redshirt freshman defensive lineman Zach Clayton is a force up front for the young Tiger defensive front.
The linebackers also got extensive work with Craig Stevens and Hendrick Leverette flanking middle linebacker Courtney Harden with the young group. Up to 220, Stevens is a physical presence at the position and showed that he'll likely be ready to push for a starting job in the spring.
The Tigers will return to the practice field Friday at 11 a.m. for the second on campus bowl practice. They will practice Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before breaking for Christmas.