Auburn, Ala.--The second scrimmage is always a good barometer on the development of a football team in preseason practice and if Quentin Groves' thoughts on the night are an accurate indication of how the team is developing then it was a good all-around night for the Auburn Tigers.
One of the veteran leaders for Coach Will Muschamp's unit, the defensive end says that the two-hour scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium had its moments on both offense and defense.
"It was pretty good," Groves says. "It was pretty balanced. The offense scored some and we had some key stops. I think we just got better on both sides of the ball. I think it's just better that our offense got out there and played. With offense it takes time to gel and get on the same page and that's what they did tonight. I think they gelled a little bit better tonight and became more of a unit."
While it wasn't the dominating performance that Groves and his teammates put on the offense in last Saturday's first scrimmage, the Mississippi native says that the defense still managed to come up with some big plays. One player in particular caught his eye with his performance but Groves says it wasn't a one-man show by any means on defense.
"I think it was the whole defense in general," Groves says. "Josh Thompson played really good for us anchoring in the middle. I think the whole defense really stepped up and had fun. I think we did pretty good. We gave up some big plays at the end in the two-minute and with the run (Brad Lester's 60-yard touchdown) that hit us but overall I think we did a good job."
Josh Thompson is one of the players Groves singled out as having a good scrimmage.
Forcing turnovers is something that Muschamp has focused on since arriving as Auburn's defensive coordinator in the spring of 2006. Last season the Tigers were a very solid defense and finished in the Top 10 in scoring defense, but didn't create many extra opportunities for its offense in terms of getting the ball back. Groves says so far this preseason the defense has been better in that aspect and it continued Friday night.
"I think we had three or four," Groves says. "We had a couple of fumbles (Mario Fannin and Ben Tate) and we had an interception or at least I think we had an interception. I think we had a couple of batted balls that affected the quarterbacks a little bit. We had a couple of pressures."
While the defense is his first priority, Groves has been around long enough to know that if Auburn hopes to have a successful season then the offense has to come around and make plays as well. Friday night he says he saw Brandon Cox and the first offense do some things that makes him excited about the potential on that side of the ball for the Tigers as well.
"I think they take a step forward every day," Groves says. "It was good just to see them play more together. They didn't individualize or get on each other, they lifted each other up. I think I saw that tonight from the offensive line lifting up the running backs and the running backs lifting up the quarterbacks and the quarterbacks lifting up the receivers. It goes on down the line. I think they got better."
When asked about the standouts at the scrimmage, Groves started with the offense and Robert Dunn was the first player he mentioned. Named by Coach Tommy Tuberville as well as Cox after making several big catches for the offense, Groves says Dunn was definitely one of the stars of the night.
"Robert Dunn had a great scrimmage," Groves says. "Mario Fannin had a couple of good runs. Brad Lester and Ben Tate had a couple of good runs. Cox threw the ball extremely well. Kodi (Kodi Burns) played pretty good. Defensively, I think the whole defense played lights out tonight. I think we had a little sluggish start but I think everybody on the defense played good. Josh did a good job in the middle for us considering he had a pretty banged up shoulder."
Auburn's top pass rusher and one of the best in the Southeastern Conference since his freshman season, Groves has spent a great deal of time improving his play against the run and also working as a linebacker at times. It hasn't taken away from his play at end though as he continues to work hard to not only improve his game but also that of the offensive tackles across from him every day in practice.
Groves says all of the players that worked at right tackle Friday night played much better and he's especially impressed by the play of true freshman Lee Ziemba.
"I think it's good practice," Groves says of his work against the young tackles. "I'm not trying to say I'm the best D-end in the whole world, but I think seeing different defensive ends and different looks is getting Lee Ziemba ready and Antwoin Daniels and Andrew McCain ready to compete.
"I think Lee has gotten a lot better," he adds. "He's protecting himself against the speed rush a lot more. He's become more physical with his hands in the pass rush. He's a great run blocker and he gets good position. He's kind of quick to be big like that and to be a freshman. He's really impressed me through this camp and continues to impress every day."
Groves and the Tigers will get back to work Saturday morning at 10 a.m. with one practice. They will also practice Sunday at 7 p.m. before taking Monday off.