Auburn, Ala.--Two practices are a short time in the grand scheme of things but that's how long it took the Auburn Tigers to get tired of practicing in shorts and excited to put on the pads for the first time on Thursday. Working on fundamentals and installing the system on both offense and defense, defensive ends coach Terry Price says that practices like Wednesdays are all about the mental part of the game.
"All you can do is really get alignment and assignment stuff done and learn how to practice with effort," Price says. "Other than that, this isn't football. Football starts tomorrow. All this is, is mental learning on the field. Football doesn't start until you put the pads on and start hitting folks. The linemen can't really get anything done but you can get a lot of assignment stuff done and a lot of mental work done. The true part of being a football player and seeing if you can play or not starts tomorrow when you put the pads on."
That was the major theme from the coaching staff after a very energetic two-hour practice in shorts on Wednesday. With head coach Tommy Tuberville missing part of the practice with a stomach bug that also hit basketball coach Jeff Lebo today, the practice was run by the assistant coaches as they put their players through the paces to prepare them for the first day in full pads. Offensive coordinator Al Borges says that despite not being able to have contact he thought the day went well.
"I thought it was up-tempo and good," Borges says. "Again this is non-pads and not real football. Tomorrow I think will be the day, and we're not going to be a well-oiled machine, but tomorrow is going tell us a little more about how we're going to compete in a real football environment. For the first two days of install the kids did a pretty good job."
Big freshman receiver Tim Hawthorne hauls in a pass.
While the linemen can do little other than lining up properly and making sure their footwork and hand placement is correct, the backs, receivers, linebackers and defensive backs can get plenty of good work in. Borges says that through two days he has been pleased with the play of his quarterbacks with both young guys doing some good things and in particular Neil Caudle.
"I think Neil Caudle is spinning the ball, he was having a little trouble spinning the ball last year, getting a nice tight spiral," Borges says. "I think his hand has healed completely now and the ball is coming out nice. He has done a nice job."
With Caudle vying for the back-up job with incumbent Blake Field and fellow redshirt freshman Steven Ensminger, the trio has all been given a good number of reps the first two days without taking many away from starter Brandon Cox. That is by design as the coaching staff wants to see improvement out of the senior this spring. Borges says so far Cox has shown him some good things.
"He's throwing the ball with more authority these first two days than he has since I've been here," Borges says. "Plus, his decision-making is pretty good too. We've got to keep him protected and do all the things that make a quarterback succeed."
With the quarterbacks throwing well it's not surprising to note that several receivers had big days. Sophomore tight end Gabe McKenzie had several nice catches for big yardages in the seven-on-seven portion of Wednesday's practice and looks like he's improving every day as a receiver. Freshman Tim Hawthorne was the most impressive of the receivers on Wednesday with fellow freshman Terrell Zachery a close second.
Senior safety Eric Brock gets the interception.
On the defensive side of things, in the secondary both Jonathan Wilhite and Pat Lee were very good in one-on-one coverage as they shut down their guys consistently. Sophomore Walter McFadden also had a good day as he looks to become a more physical player on the corner for the Tigers.
On the injury front, the only player not taking part in Wednesday's practice was defensive end Bryant Miller after he strained a hamstring on the first day. He's expected back as early as next week.
The Tigers will put on the pads for Thursday's practice with the workout scheduled to begin just after 9 a.m. They will practice Friday afternoon as well before having a short scrimmage Saturday morning at 10 a.m.
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Many talented area prospects from Beauregard, Auburn and the surrounding schools came by Wednesday afternoon's practice to watch the Tigers in action. Among the players was talented junior safety Dee Finley from Auburn. Up to 205 pounds and looking to be in great shape, Finley says he was in Tuscaloosa for Alabama's junior day last Saturday and will be back on the Auburn campus this weekend to take in another practice. Also in attendance was Auburn wide receiver Ralph Spry. Recruited by the Tigers but not offered a scholarship, Spry says he's still hoping to receive an offer from someone before next fall.