Tigers Turn Up The Heat At Football Practice

With the Southern Cal game just around the corner, Tommy Tuberville is pushing the Tigers to get ready for the football opener.

Auburn, Ala.--Tommy Tuberville was a much happier head coach on Thursday night than he had been 24 hours earlier after the Tigers finished a 2 1/2-hour practice in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Thursday evening that featured work on the offensive and defensive game plans plus the kicking game.

One of the reasons for his happiness was the brisker pace of the practice as the Tigers pushed the practice back later into the evening to avoid the late afternoon heat. The Tigers finished their practice under the lights.

Another reason Tuberville is happy was relatively good news on the injury front. Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Taylor Bourgeois was cleared for full speed contact work after recovering from a shoulder injury that was not related to the problem that required offseason surgery.

Marcel Willis

The news is also good on his most experienced wide receiver, senior Marcel Willis, who was back to full speed or very close to it on Thursday after missing much of the preseason with a hamstring problem. Willis is running second team on the depth chart behind sophomore Silas Daniels, who has had his best stretch of practice this preseason.

"I am improving everyday so I am happy about that," Daniels says. "Commenting on the overall offense, the sophomore says, "We have struggled at times in practice today and this week, but we are coming on. However, we could still use a little work. Although we are still struggling some we were better today than the last two practices."

Silas Daniels

Daniels says the heavy humidity has been "draining" this week. "Yesterday (Wednesday) in particular was particularly bad," he says. "It was better today. I was all right at first, but it drained me throughout the day. We had a long practice."

Another receiver, sophomore Joe Walkins, missed practice again with a thigh problem and was sent to doctors at HealthSouth for further evaluation.

The Tigers are scheduled to practice again on Friday and then take the day off on Saturday before practicing on Sunday. First team weakside tackle Mark Pera was originally scheduled to return to workouts on Friday, but Tuberville says that the big tackle will now probably be back on Sunday to give him two extra days to overcome the hip flexor injury. Tuberville says as long as Pera is ready to go full speed by Tuesday that he will be ready to play vs. Southern Cal. Pera has been moving well.

Ryan Hockett

Tiger Ticket Extra: Offensive line coach Hugh Nall has praise for walk-on senior strong guard Ryan Hockett, who looks like he will be the opening starter for the Tigers. "He is a great kid who is continuing to do a good job for us." Hockett dropped 16 pounds at the extremely hot Wednesday practice, but was cleared for the Thursday session because he gained almost all of it back. Nall says he continues to be encouraged by his true freshman guards, Troy Reddick on the weakside and Marcus McNeill on the strongside. Reddick and McNeill have also gotten practice time at tackle...Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino says that the Tigers will rely on their running game on opening night against Southern Cal, but says not to expect a three yards and a cloud of dust style of attack. "We are going to take our shots downfield," he says. Petrino had Wesley Hill running the scout team on Thursday with fellow freshman stepping in to do some of the passing drills. Petrino is expected to make a choice on who will be the third team QB next week...Tuberville had praise on Thursday for backup linebackers Lemarcus Rowell, Antarrious Williams and Travis Williams. All three are freshmen with Williams and Williams being redshirted.

DeMarco McNeill

Defensive lineman DeMarco McNeil says the 2001 season was a frustrating one for him because for the first time in his life he was an average football player. Limited by a knee problem that forced him to miss most of the practices and play at 50-60 percent of his normal quickness on game days, McNeill says he is eager to get back on the field and play like he did in 2000 when he earned Freshman All-America honors. McNeill says it is important to him that the 2002 team succeed and he adds that he likes the squad that Tuberville has put together this fall. "This is a really close football team. We look out for each other on and off the field." McNeil is running No. 1 at noseguard ahead of redshirt freshman Wayne Dickens...With a rebuilt offensive line, pass protection could be an issue this year. Tailback Tre Smith, who is off to an impressive start as a true freshman this preseason, says that his position coach, Eddie Gran, has really been emphasizing the importance of pass blocking for the running backs. The Tigers gave up 30 sacks last season with 189 yards in losses...The Tigers worked on special teams on Thursday. Roderick Hood is a leading candidate to be the No. 1 punt returner and a deep kickoff returner along with freshman Ben Obomanu. Now that he is back at practice, Marcel Willis is getting practice as a punt returner...Tuberville says he will likely take 80-85 players on the road trip to Southern Cal. There is no limit on the traveling squad size for non-conference games. The limit is 70 for SEC games.

Brandon Johnson is running first team at fullback. As a sophomore, he split his time between fullback and linebacker. He is shown at practice this week.

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