Auburn, Ala.-—In the first of two practices on the final day of two-a-days, the Auburn Tigers spent an hour and a half Wednesday morning on special teams and walk-through work in preparation for a full pad practice Wednesday night to close preseason camp. Coach Tommy Tuberville says that while it was extremely hot he was pleased with the focus of his team in the first practice of the day.
For the first 30 minutes of the practice the team worked on every aspect of special teams under the direction of Coach Eddie Gran. Tuberville says it was nice to get extra work in on the special teams and also have a non-contact practice to allow players such as Merrill Johnson, Mike Blanc and Jermarcus Ricks time to catch up on the mental part of things because of the time they missed during camp.
Running back Mario Fannin returns a kick.
Offensively the day didn't do much to help the confidence of the receivers after a less than spectacular practice Tuesday night. Without much in the way of throwing and catching to be done, Tuberville says they still have some work to do in order to make up for lost time but he wasn't the one to come down hard on the group.
"They've got some hurt feelings," Tuberville says. "Greg Knox did (take it out on the receivers). I think they stayed out there until about midnight and caught a few passes. That's all it is, it's focus and concentration. Most of the guys that are making mistakes are younger guys. That is to be expected but it can't be tolerated because they are going to have to play. When it's your turn to play you've got to get it done. It was just one of those days when there wasn't a lot of consistency."
That is something Coach Greg Knox has been looking for out of the group this preseason as receivers such as Rodgeriqus Smith, Robert Dunn and Prechae Rodriguez have left no doubts they belong in the first group for the Tigers. An injured Montez Billings in likely in the group as well with Knox saying he would like to have six he can count on going into the first week. He admits he's almost to that number at the moment with five but he's not ready to say who they are.
"It's tough to say right now," Knox says. "There are five of them in the mix right now and we're searching for a number six. There are five now that I know can get on the field. I can't identify those five but I know five that can help us right now. We're looking for that sixth to emerge."
A player that has put himself into contention despite missing all of the summer workouts and several on-campus practices is Chris Slaughter. Showing that he can catch the ball and make plays after the catch, Slaughter is making a move despite being behind in the learning process.
"He's one that has to play catch up," Knox says. "He got here late so he's still trying to learn the offense. He's got to play catch up. We're teaching him everything we can and he's going to try to learn the whole offense, which is tough. Once we get to game planning for Kansas State the offense will be shrunk down. Hopefully he'll have a chance to pick it up better at that point."
One of the receivers that won't be in the mix is redshirt freshman Alex Rose. Away from the team and out of practice, Knox says he's unsure of his status with the team as they head into the first day of school.
"I don't know," Knox says of Rose's return. "I haven't had a chance to speak to Alex lately so I don't know the answer to that."
It was a big day for Gran as he got to put all of his special teams units through the paces, both the return and cover teams for punts and kickoffs. After putting the units together in bits and pieces for the first two weeks, he says it was nice to be able to bring everything together and see how it looked.
"Being able to take 30 minutes and go through everything we're doing, because everything up to this time has been technique, we've gone from point A to point C and today we put them all together," Gran says. "Now we see if they can do their technique and get to the right spot and block the right person. Now we'll start building towards Kansas State. I was proud of the way they practiced today."
Kicker Wes Byrum booms a kickoff during Wednesday morning's practice.
Following another solid practice by true freshman Wes Byrum that saw him not only kick the ball well in kickoffs from the 30-yard line with the ball consistently at the goal line or into the endzone with plenty of hangtime, Byrum also had a good day punting the ball. That prompted Tuberville to say he might be doing everything, something they hope won't be the case.
The good news for Gran is the return of Ryan Shoemaker in the punting game. Out with a strained groin, he came back for Tuesday's practice and didn't perform up to par. Wednesday morning Gran says he didn't have that problem.
"He came back out yesterday and it was like he had not kicked in three weeks and he hadn't kicked in two days," Gran says. "Again, that goes back to rhythm. We kind of challenged him yesterday and he came back out today and crushed the ball. He really, really kicked the ball well. I was proud to see him fight back."
Following a Wednesday night practice scheduled for 6:45 on the intramural fields, the Tigers will take Thursday off before having the second scrimmage of the fall Friday night. Tuberville says they have several things in mind they want to see out of the team in Friday's action.
"There are several players we need to look at," Tuberville says. "That's what we'll do tomorrow, go over things and see who we need to look at and who is not going to scrimmage or how much they're going to get. We'll regulate it pretty good. We'll have officials and it will be underneath the lights."