Auburn, Ala.--With Coach Tommy Tuberville still suffering from the effects of a stomach virus that kept him off the practice field for much of the day, the Auburn Tigers put on the pads for the first time in day three of spring training and it was the defense that got the best of things right out of the gate.
Although the offense had a solid day with quarterback Brandon Cox throwing the ball well, coordinator Al Borges says there was little doubt the defense got the best of his unit on Thursday.
"We've got a ways to go," Borges says. "We've got to get tougher offensively. We're too soft right now. Part of it is because A we've got new guys and B we've put a lot of offense in during the first three days, so they are a little indecisive. We'll fix that. I'm not worried about the assignment part of it because we'll fix that.
"We've got to get tougher all the way around, not just the offensive linemen. We've got to get tougher on the perimeter, get tougher at quarterback, get tougher at running back, everybody. We just have to be more aggressive. The first day of pads everybody should be breathing fire and it wasn't, from an offensive perspective, everything I wanted it to be."
Practicing for much of the time in a steady rain, both the offense and defense spent the early part of the practice working on fundamentals with blocking and tackling drills done before moving on to full team work. Once that happened it was all about the defense as several players had big days. Perhaps the biggest was put in by redshirt freshman defensive end Zach Clayton.
Working with the second-team defense behind Antonio Coleman on the strong side, Clayton had his way in pass rush drills and carried that over into 11-on-11 work as he constantly got pressure on the quarterback. He also got into the action in the passing game as a cover man as he dropped in a zone blitz and picked off a Neil Caudle pass. Clayton says right now he's just trying to become a more physical player in the hopes that he can push Coleman for the starting spot.
"I just always try to go full speed to the ball," Clayton says. "I try to keep good tempo and work hard. I need to be a little bit more physical with my hands, get my hands on the breast plate. I have had a bad tendency to get my hands out and using my forearms. I need to lock that up and get the plays down."
Zach Clayton beats Oscar Gonzalez off the corner as Coach Hugh Nall looks on.
Fellow defenders Patrick Trahan and Walter McFadden continue to perform well as Trahan added the only other interception of the day late in the practice. Getting plenty of work at cornerback with Jerraud Powers held out of contact work, McFadden is showing a more physical style of play this spring and had several pass break-ups in team action.
Offensively the biggest play came from running back Tristan Davis. Taking a handoff on a speed sweep, Davis broke down the sidelines for what likely would have been a long touchdown run. Borges says that it has helped Davis this spring to have played the position before.
"It's such a plus to have had him play offense before," Borges says. "He's a little rusty but you're not starting from ground zero with him. He basically knows our pick-up system and knows our tracks in the run game. He just has to be refreshed. He's just so speedy and fast that he gives you a real nice dimension to have."
Another good sign for the Tigers was the kicking game on Thursday as both Zach Kutch and Tyler DiPace were perfect on field goals to end the practice. After struggling early on the first day both have come back to kick well. Punter Ryan Shoemaker has also had a strong start to his spring and has improved his consistency from last fall.
There was one injury on the day as sophomore defensive lineman Jermarcus Ricks got rolled up on during a drill and was helped off the field. The severity of the injury is not known although it looked to be an ankle or knee sprain at the time of the injury.
The Tigers will return to the practice field Friday afternoon with the second full pad practice of the spring as they prepare for the first scrimmage Saturday morning. Friday's practice is scheduled for 4 p.m. with the scrimmage set for 10 a.m. Both are open to the public.