Following what Coach Tommy Tuberville called one of the best practices of the fall, he said that several injured players should be ready to return to practice this week in time to play against the USC Trojans one week from Monday.
"That was probably one of our better practices," Tuberville noted following the two and a half hour session in shorts and shoulder pads. "We hit on almost every phase. We went 50 minutes in scout team and the other hour and 15 minutes working against ourselves. The guys looked a lot fresher and a lot sharper after having a day off."
Back on the practice field in drills on Sunday evening after missing much of preseason was offensive tackle Mark Pera. The projected starter at weak tackle before straining a hip flexor, the junior should be ready for the season opener but will likely split time with redshirt freshman Steven Ross to avoid becoming tired during the game.
Wide receiver Marcel Willis is also scheduled to return to practice on Tuesday after missing almost two weeks with a strained hamstring. Auburn's top receiver in the preseason, Silas Daniels, suffered a slightly strained groin during Sunday's practice but should return to practice later in the week.
Junior defensive end Reggie Torbor was held out of practice with a slight sprain of the patella tendon in his knee. The junior suffered the sprain during Friday's practice in a minimal contact drill. Working against offensive tackle Ryan Broome in a pass rush setting, he beat the sophomore to the quarterback and as he was coming back to the huddle his knee tightened up. The swelling has gone down in the knee and Tuberville said that they will make sure he's ready to go before putting him back on the field. He could return as early as Tuesday or Wednesday but he didn't rule out the option of resting Torbor for the remainder of the week so he'll be ready for the USC game. Because of his experience, his practice time needed is less than the rest of the defensive ends.
Defensive linemen Dante Booker and Doug Morris listen intently as coach Terry Price shows them the steps he wants on a certain pass rush. Booker is expected to see action at defensive tackle and could also step out to defensive end in a pinch. Morris is expected to redshirt.
After spending 30 minutes on special teams to open the practice, the coaches took the players through the game plan for the USC Trojans by working against a scout team designed to simulate what the opponent does on offense and defense. Offensively, the Tigers continue to improve but Tuberville said they need to get some continuity on the line in the coming days to settle the offense into a groove.
"They're getting to know more of what they are doing," he said of the unit as a whole. "We need to get Mark Pera out there for a few days. He worked with the offensive line today. We also worked Danny Lindsey at the backup center. He'll work along with (Jeremy) Ingle because we need three centers to travel. Danny looked like he hadn't taken a day away from center. He looked good."
One change on the field Sunday was on the head of junior fullback Brandon Johnson. A very physical player, Johnson suffered a variety of injuries the past two seasons. On a couple of occasions he has been plagued with concussions. A new helmet by Riddell is being used by Auburn to see if it will help alleviate the problem. Johnson was wearing it for the first time in Sunday's practice and appeared to like his new gear.
Johnson shown wearing the innovative helmet from Riddell.
A player who has caught the eyes of the coaching staff this fall is freshman linebacker Lemarcus Rowell. Known for his ferocious play and aggressive style, Rowell is already pumped up about playing his first college game. After sitting out all of last season due to a problem with the NCAA Clearinghouse mistakenly ruling him academically ineligible, the Opelika product said he can't wait to get started.
"Actually I got excited yesterday (Saturday) knowing that it was getting closer," Rowell said. "Out there on the field I felt pretty great in practice today. I really got excited when I was watching Florida State on the field and how they were jumping around. It kind of brought back fond memories."
Those memories are fond for Rowell on the football field as the former high school All-American could only sit and watch last fall as the future teammates played without him. Now a year older and wiser, he noted that he'll have to be careful not to get too carried away when he walks out on the field against USC.
"I'm just worried about how I'm going to feel emotionally when I go out there," he said with a smile. "I hope I don't erupt or something. I'm trying to hold off being excited right now too early."
The Tigers will take Monday off before continuing game week preparations on Tuesday evening. With practices scheduled the rest of the week until Saturday, the team will take two test runs in Jordan-Hare Stadium next week on Wednesday and Friday to simulate game situations with headsets, hand signals, substitutions, etc. They leave for Los Angeles on Saturday for the Monday night game that kicks off shortly after 7 p.m. CDT, which is 5 p.m. in Los Angeles.