Tuberville Talks Auburn Football

Coach Tommy Tuberville talks about the start of spring football practice at Auburn.

Auburn, Ala.--Coach Tommy Tuberville was in an upbeat mood as his ninth Auburn football team got off to an early start with its first spring training practice on a warm and sunny February day.

The Tigers will work out through March 17th when they close spring drills with their annual A-Day Game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"I am excited about getting back out on the field," Tuberville said. "It was good to see our guys energetic, flying around out on the field today."

The Tigers worked out in shorts and helmets for two hours and 15 minutes on Tuesday. They will practice again on Wednesday before putting full pads on for the first time on Thursday.

"We are spending as much time in the meeting room as we possibly can," Tuberville said. "We have got a lot of room for mental improvement, obviously, with a lot of young guys. We have got a lot of talent on the field. We have some guys who have speed and quickness.

"The philosophy of this spring practice is to carry this group along very slowly and try to make sure we have got everybody in the right positions, put our basic running plays in, our basic run defenses in and not get too fancy on either side," Tuberville said. "We want to do what we need to do to get better at the fundamentals and kind of crawl, and crawl very slowly at the beginning, probably for the first two weeks.

"We will have three good scrimmages, including the A-Day Game," he noted. "They will be on Saturdays. The rest of the time we will be doing fundamentals and techniques. We have a lot of concerns in most areas. Offensively, obviously the line losing all of the starters. Experience is where you win and win consistently. We are going to have to pick up a lot of experience through team drills and scrimmages, especially with the offensive line the communication, the techniques, the aggressiveness and the physical type of play we need from our offensive line to have a chance to be a good football team next year.

"We have to have some receivers step up," Tuberville added. "We saw some good things out there today from Prechae Rodriguez and Robert Dunn. Those are two guys who are going to have to make plays for us this year to have some success."

Rebuilding the kick game will be a priority this spring with Kody Bliss, John Vaughn and Matt Clark gone from last season's team.

"We have hardly anyone back from the kicking game.," Tuberville said. "The holder is the only guy we have coming back in Matthew Motley. He is going to be our team captain for special teams this year.

Ryan Shoemaker will be closely watched this spring.

"We are looking for a punter, a deep snapper, a field goal kicker and a kickoff guy, which is going to be very important. We voted to move the kickoff back to the 30-yard line to have more kickoff returns and run the clock a little more. It is going to be important to find someone with a strong leg. We had the best in the country last year in Matt Clark, we would love to have him another year, but he is gone and we have to fill those needs. There is going to be a lot of competition with the kicking game."

Following Tuesday's practice, Tuberville made also made these points:

*The tight ends look like they will be the strength of the offense this year with Cole Bennett, Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie returning. The coach said the Tigers could use three tight end sets to take advantage of the depth and talent at the position.

*Defensive end Alonzo Horton is in a hole academically and won't practice this spring, the coach said. "We will kind of figure out at the end of this semester if he is going to be able to make it through that. He worked his way into a hole like a couple of other guys did the last few years. There is no reason to practice anybody unless they are going to take care of that first."

*QB Brandon Cox needs to play pass the ball better and step up as the offensive leader as a fifth-year senior, Tuberville said.

*The secondary needs to become more physical this spring, the head coach noted. Senior Eric Brock is showing signs of being the leader of the group, according to Tuberville.

*Tuberville said if linebacker Tray Blackmon takes care of "personal problems" he will be "in good standing with the team" May 15 or 16 when summer classes begin. The sophomore is currently not enrolled in classes.

*Backup QB Blake Field is battling tendonitis in his shoulder so he will have a challenge from redshirt freshmen Steven Ensminger and Neil Caudle this spring, Tuberville predicted.

*Fullback Michael McLaughlin is unable to practice due to injuries and now has medical hardship status, which means he can stay on scholarship but not count on the 85-limit for football players on scholarship. Tuberville said that McLaughlin is doing well academically and plans to earn his degree at AU.

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