Although several players again missed the practice because of injuries, Coach Tommy Tuberville says the day was a good one for his team as they get ready to the second big test of the 15 practice days in the spring.
Working on all phases of the game on both offense and defense, the Tigers spent the first half of Thursday's practice working on fundamentals and learning on both sides of the ball. After that it was competition time as 11-on-11 work and one-on-one work dominated the final hour of the practice. Tuberville says he liked what he saw out of his team and in particular quarterback Brandon Cox.
"We had a lot of contact and tomorrow we're going to go in shorts and shoulder pads and do a lot of mental stuff to get ready for the early morning scrimmage on Saturday," Tuberville says. "The guys are working hard. They have pushed through eight practices. It has been a struggle for some of these guys because they have never gone through something like this before. It has been good so far. We've got a lot of work to do.
"The kicking game is looking a lot better," he adds. "I'm really pleased with that. I thought today, our two-minute drill, was one of the best we've ever done here. A lot of it has to do with your quarterback being active and that goes to show you Brandon is getting a lot better and how much better he is when he's healthy. It's good to have him out here. The guys are competing hard. We've got to have a good scrimmage Saturday."
Steven Ensminger throws a pass during Thursday's practice.
The scrimmage situation will be the second for redshirt freshmen quarterbacks Neil Caudle and Steven Ensminger to show how far they have come in a week's time. Thursday both threw the ball better than they have all spring and looked to make some progress but Tuberville says they still have a long way to go before they are ready to make a move.
"They are still young and inexperienced and nervous," Tuberville says. "They're not doing any of the little things right. They are doing a little bit better than they were but their technique is off. When your technique is off in this offense you're going to struggle with timing and getting the ball off.
"I have been pleased with them," he adds. "They have worked hard. I think Neil and Steven have competed well. Steven just needs to stay healthy. It has been good so far. The biggest thing I have been pleased with is the starting quarterback and remembering how he was and not how he was this fall."
On the injury front the Tigers were without Sen'Derrick Marks and Jermarcus Ricks up front on defense with linebacker Merrill Johnson still out because of a calf injury. Offensively wide receiver Robert Dunn missed Thursday's practice as he tries to get back from a strained hamstring. The same is true of running back Mario Fannin. One player that was back dressed out was Tim Hawthorne. After the tragic events last weekend, Tuberville says it was good to see the freshman back on the field even if it was just to watch.
"Tim Hawthorne was back today in uniform but it will be a while before he does anything," Tuberville says. "It's more mental. He went to the funeral yesterday. It's a pretty tough time for him. The good Lord gave him a second chance and it's obvious he's got something better for him to do. It's good to have him back out here."
Hawthorne chats with Caudle and Gabe McKenzie on Thursday.
Hawthorne was one of the freshmen making a move this spring before the car accident last Saturday night. Over the halfway point of spring practice, now is the time when young guys can expect to make a move to get in the playing rotation heading into the summer. Tuberville says several of the freshmen have performed well to this point and he's looking for that to continue on Saturday.
"Zaccheus Etheridge is going to be a good player," Tuberville says. "He's learning and picking it up. Craig Stevens was a little apprehensive at the beginning but he's getting much better. Darrell Roseman is improving. With his leg he hasn't been able to do a whole lot but he's gotten better. Bart Eddins is going to be a good football player. He's really picking it up.
"Zach Clayton, we're just making sure we've got him in the right position but his motor runs 100 percent all the time. He's got a defensive mentality and he's going to be a heck of a player for us. I have been pleased with Ben Tate. Other than a couple of practices he's come out and really done well. You can tell being out here for a spring has really helped him overcome. Terrell Zachery is probably one of the most improved at wide receiver. He hasn't been out here and is starting to show what he can do."
There were several visitors at Thursday morning's practice as Dameyune Craig and several coaches from Tuskegee were watching the action as well as from Clarion College in Pennsylvania, Milton High in Florida, Homewood, Central High in Phenix City and coaches from Northside High in Fort Smith, Ark. where Auburn signee Kodi Burns goes to school.
Auburn will have a short practice Friday afternoon to make sure the mental game is in order for Saturday's scrimmage. Friday's practice will be at 4 p.m. with the scrimmage scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.