Football Scrimmage One: Advantage Defense

A report on Auburn's first football scrimmage of the season is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--On a Saturday when the defense made big hits that sent resounding thuds echoing throughout Jordan-Hare Stadium, the defense held the upper hand in Auburn's first spring football scrimmage.

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville called the scrimmage "a little ragged," but noted that there were some things that he liked.

"There were some good licks," Tuberville said. "We didn't allow the defense to do a whole lot today. Offensively, we did a little bit more than what the defense was allowed to do. Defensively, it will be a different story next week. We will turn them loose a little bit more next week for the second scrimmage."

Defensively, the highlight of the scrimmage that featured 64 running plays and 48 pass plays was the performance of the linebackers. Chris Evans, playing in the middle, was particularly aggressive and led all tacklers with 11 stops, including seven solos.

Strongside linebacker Patrick Trahan made 10 tackles, including six solo stops and a sack. Weakside linebacker Craig Stevens, who will be a redshirt freshman this fall, made nine tackles with four solos, one sack and two more tackles for lost yardage.

"They knew what they were doing because we weren't doing a lot on defense today," Tuberville said. "That allowed them to turn it loose and make some plays. When we start adding more things it will be a little bit different for the defense. One thing I noticed is we have some speed out there at linebacker and on the defense as a whole."

Linebacker coach James Willis had praise for the job the defensive line did keeping blockers off the linebackers. "We can't do anything if the front doesn't do anything so obviously those guys are doing their job because we were able to run and around and make some plays," Willis said. "I think the unsung heroes were the linemen. They stepped up. They're drawing those blocks and the guys can't get to the next level so I think the D-line really played well, and when they play well we play well."

Tailback Brad Lester is tackled by defensive end Antonio Coleman and others.

Commenting on the three leading tacklers, Evans, Trahan and Stevens, Willis said. "Those guys really stand out. They all played really well. Courtney Harden is improving. Steve Gandy also. I'm just really happy with Chris Evans. He came out and put on a show. We'll build on that."

The play of Evans caught the eye of the head coach, too. "The big thing for Chris is playing with authority inside," Tuberville said. "He is not a big guy. To play middle linebacker you have got to play with a little bit different tempo. He is starting to learn what to do and understand that. I thought some other guys stepped up at linebacker, too."

Evans got plenty of action with number one middle linebacker, Merrill Johnson, leaving the scrimmage early after suffering a calf injury. Tuberville said the problem does not appear to be serious.

Offensively, senior Brandon Cox and junior tailback Brad Lester were impressive as was junior wideout Rodgeriqus Smith.

Cox, no longer bothered by leg and ankle injuries that bothered him last season, was much more mobile and was available to dodge the pass rush to buy more time for his receivers. Cox hit 13-23 passes for 138 yards and a TD pass to Smith. He threw the ball with more zip and more accuracy than he did last season after being injured in game three.

The only other offensive touchdown of the scrimmage was a 36-yarder featuring a pair of redshirt freshmen from the Birmingham area when Neil Caudle hooked up with wideout Tim Hawthorne on a deep sideline route.

Caudle was involved in the scrimmage's other touchdown on a play he wished hadn't taken place. Throwing a sideline route, he hit cornerback Walter McFadden in the chest and the speedy defensive back had clear sailing down the west sideline for a 58-yard TD return.

Commenting on the play of QB Cox, Tuberville said, "He looked a lot better than he did at the end of last year. He was moving around a lot better and that makes a big difference."

Cox said, "For the first scrimmage, I actually think it went pretty well. We have some new guys up front. They are still learning, but they came out and were pretty aggressive and got better.

"Offensively, our goal was to run the ball and throw it deep a couple of times. I think we accomplished both of those things."

Rodgeriqus Smith catches a touchdown pass from Brandon Cox as cornerback Patrick Lee defends on the play.

The Tigers will scrimmage again next Saturday and the A-Day Game will wrap up spring drills the following Saturday on March 17th. "I want to improve on leadership and get the timing down with the new receivers," Cox said. "I want to try to get back to where I was before I got injured during the season."

Tuberville said he liked the punting work of redshirt freshman Ryan Shoemaker and the field goal kicking by walk-on Ross Gornall. Gornall was the only one of the three kickers to make all of his attempts. He was good from 43 yards, 39 and 37 yards. Zach Kutch, the scholarship kicker, was 2-3 with his miss from 43 yards. Tyler DiPace missed from 43 and 37 yards and his 39-yarder was blocked by Patrick Lee, who found a seam and hit the ball before it got near the line of scrimmage.

"Gornall has got more authority kicking the ball," Tuberville said. "He has a stronger leg. I thought he looked pretty good."

In other highlights and notes from Saturday's scrimmage, which lasted nearly three hours at Jordan-Hare Stadium:

*Wide receiver Robert Dunn was held out of the session with a hamstring problem. Defensive end Bryant Miller (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jermarcus Rick (twisted knee), who were injured earlier in the week, did not participate in the scrimmage.

*Six defenders were credited with sacks even though they were not allowed to tackle the QBs. Trahan, Stevens, Harden, noseguard Josh Thompson, walk-on safety Jonathan Vickers and defensive end Michael Goggans made one apiece.

*Tristan Davis got plenty of action in his first scrimmage since returning to offense from safety. The speedster carried the ball 14 times for 13 yards. He had the offense's only two fumbles. One was recovered by the offense and the other fumble bounced out of bounds.


Rushing: Brad Lester 18-80; Mario Fannin 11-56; Ben Tate 13-31; Tristan Davis 14-13; Danny Perry 2-0; Carl Stewart 1-0; Prechae Rodriguez 1-0; Brandon Cox 2-(-6); Neil Caudle 1-(-6); Blake Field 2-(-14).

Passing: Brandon Cox 13-23-0, 138 yards, 1 touchdown; Neil Caudle 1-8-1, 38 yards, 1 TD; Blake Field 4-10-0, 36, 0 TD; Steven Ensminger, 3-7-0, 30, 0 TD.

Receiving: Rodgeriqus Smith 4-71, 1 TD; Montez Billings 3-23; Tim Hawthorne 2-42, 1 TD; Ben Tate 2-14; Cole Bennett 2-10, Prechae Rodriguez 1-17; Gabe McKenzie 1-14; Terrell Zachery 1-13; Carl Stewart 1-12; Brent Slusher 1-11; James Swinton 1-8; Mario Fannin 1-5; Tommy Trott 1-2

Tackles Chris Evans 7-4; Patrick Trahan 6-4; Craig Stevens 4-5; Patrick Lee 6-1; Courtney Harden 3-3; Steve Gandy 2-4; Aairon Savage 3-2; Jonathan Vickers and Josh Thompson 3-1; Pat Sims 1-3; Darrell Roseman 0-4; Jonathan Wilhite 1-3; Eric Brock and Greg Smith 1-2; Merrill Johnson 0-3; Zac Etheridge 2-0, Tez Doolittle and Austin Hoyt 1-1; Zach Gilbert and Mike Blanc 0-2; Walter McFadden, Antonio Coleman, Sen'Derrick Marks, Josh Hebert and Michael Goggans 1-0 and Quentin Groves, Octavius Balkcom and Zach Clayton 0-1.

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