Auburn, Ala.--In the final practice before the Auburn Tigers put on the full pads for the first time in the preseason, Coach Tommy Tuberville says it was an up and down day as they tried to work the full team together for the first time. In a practice filled with intensity and several big hits, Tuberville says the hardest thing was finding consistency with so many bodies on the field.
"We had good, long practice," Tuberville says. "We were trying to get everybody in. Nobody was real tired today because the lines are real long. We're going to do this for about a week and then we're going to start cutting it down to two teams. It's kind of hard to get any consistency at quarterback when you're fumbling snaps and have different centers out there and different quarterbacks taking snaps. We tried to work all five today and we'll continue to do that until we work our way down to three."
After working in split practice groups since the opening of preseason camp, the two came together for the first time on Sunday and it was a baptism by fire for many of the incoming freshmen. Working against older, more experienced players for the first time, it was a learning experience for the guys on both the offense and defense. Tuberville says although there were some struggles he was pleased with what he saw.
"A lot of them were outspoken and talked a lot, which was good," Tuberville says. "There's going to be some good leaders in that bunch. Most of them are trying to learn their way around. I think they are glad to be at the end of line now and watching instead of having to go every snap like they did the last three days. We've got a lot of good talent. Some of them are going to have a chance to play but they'll have to do something the next three weeks."
Up front the young guy who appeared to have the best day was center Ryan Pugh. Working with the second team at center with Leon Hart with the first group the entire time and Mike Berry at right guard, Pugh more than held his own against the veterans and actually got into a minor scuffle with senior Tez Doolittle during an inside running drill. Still searching for a right tackle, the Tigers took a long look at Oscar Gonzalez at the position on Sunday as he split time with Andrew McCain with the first unit during team drills after an impressive one-on-one session.
Defensively Zach Clayton had a very good day all the way around as he made some plays in the team portion of the practice but it was during the one-on-one drills where he made his mark. Coach Don Dunn has been on Clayton to be more physical off the ball and Sunday he was just that, using his hands and creating separation to get to the quarterback.
In a very physical practice for a team still in shorts, the hits were big and plentiful with sophomore linebacker Tray Blackmon accounting for several on the running backs. The safeties also got in the mix as both Zac Etheridge and Eric Brock came up to lay the lumber on the running back. Brock also added an interception during team drills for good measure.
Safety Zac Etheridge puts a hit on tailback Mario Fannin.
Quarterback Brandon Cox looked to have a better day in his second day back after missing time with the flu. He was poised and delivered several nice strikes. His best throw of the day came as he hit tight end Cole Bennett down the middle of the defense for a big gainer.
At the running back position it was the Tristan Davis show for the most part as he got the bulk of the carries on the day with Mario Fannin and Benjamin Tate also mixing in for the work. After working so much the first three days, Tuberville says Brad Lester got a bit of a break on Sunday to get ready for a tough week coming up.
"He got plenty of work the last couple of days," Tuberville says. "We wanted to let Tristan get more today. This was Tristan's day."
The kickers continue to be consistent as there were just three misses out of 16 kicks from yardages of 25, 30, 35, 40. Ross Gornall missed from 25 and 40 yards while Graham Sutter also missed from 25. Both Zach Kutch and Wes Byrum were perfect on the day.
Much of the special teams work early in practice was spent covering kickoffs and punts and well as some time during the middle of the practice on kickoff returns. Returning punts on Sunday were Fannin, Robert Dunn and Ryan Williams. Back deep for kickoffs were Tristan Davis and Fannin with the first unit with Tate, Lester, Patrick Lee and James Swinton also getting looks.
The Tigers will begin full practice workouts on Monday with just one practice scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Two-a-days will begin on Tuesday with practices scheduled for 8:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.