Tigers Begin To Sort Out Playing Rotation

Coach Tommy Tuberville as well as defensive tackles Coach Don Dunn talk about Friday's scrimmage and Saturday morning's practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Following a long scrimmage Friday night inside Jordan-Hare Stadium that ran well into the night, the Auburn Tigers returned to the practice field Saturday morning in shorts and shoulder pads for a short practice focusing on correcting the mistakes of the previous night. Coach Tommy Tuberville said that looking back on the scrimmage things went pretty well for his club.

"The little things looked a lot better," Tuberville said. "We've just got to pick up the tempo with the second and third team offense. All we did today was a little bit of team to try to get the soreness out. Tomorrow we'll get back after it."

Sunday will also be the day the Tigers announce the plans at kicker Tuberville said. At the moment the frontrunners on the kicking side are Wes Byrum and walk-on Graham Sutter with Ryan Shoemaker the leader at punter.

Following Saturday's practice offensive coordinator Al Borges said that he saw improvement across the board from his unit in Friday night's scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp seconded that opinion when he was asked his assessment. Despite the improvement, Borges said they still have a long way to go on offense to be ready for Kansas State.

The second scrimmage of the preseason is always gives a good feel for the players the coaches are going to count on this season. If Saturday's practice is any indication then the offensive line will be a little different than it looked coming into fall practice as true freshman Lee Ziemba and redshirt freshman Mike Berry held down the first team spots on the right side at tackle and guard respectively. Fellow redshirt freshman Byron Isom bruised a knee and was held out of Saturday's practice with Tyronne Green working at his familiar first team left guard position. Jason Bosley and King Dunlap rounded out the first five for Coach Hugh Nall.

Tyronne Green is back with the first team after missing time with a sore toe.

Up front on the defensive side of the ball, Josh Thompson was held out of contact work after banging up a shoulder during Friday night's scrimmage. Even without Thompson on the day, Coach Don Dunn said he was happy with what he saw out of his group in the scrimmage.

"We did some good things," Dunn said. "Jermarcus Ricks had a real good scrimmage, his best since he's been here. It's the first time he's really been healthy this season. He graded real well and had a lot of good production points. Mike Blanc probably didn't have as good of a scrimmage but I think that's probably due to his ankle, it's bothering him. Pat (Pat Sims) was pretty steady and Josh was steady. Zach Clayton had a better scrimmage. They all improved. The only one that didn't was Mike Blanc and I understand why. With his wrist and ankle, he's really hobbling today. Overall I was pretty well pleased with them."

The goal for Dunn coming into the preseason was to find four able bodies to play the two positions up front for the Tigers. He said at the moment he's got five guys he thinks can get the job done when called upon.

"Right now, as of the end of today, it would be Josh, Pat, Jake Ricks, Mike Blanc and Zach," Dunn said. "That will be the five that hopefully will play. It's real big. You want to have four and five is a bonus. They're all really working hard. The problem we have is that a lot of them haven't played, the experience, except for Pat and Josh. We've got to get them as many reps and that was good last night. We went about 120-something plays and it was good. You can't get enough of that. We'll do a lot more of that situational stuff the next couple of weeks."

Big Jermarcus "Jake" Ricks works against an offensive lineman in Saturday's practice.

On the injury front elsewhere the Tigers appear to be getting better despite a few new minor injuries. Receiver Tim Hawthorne suffered what Al Borges called a slightly sprained ankle but should be back on Sunday. Fellow receiver Montez Billings appears to be getting closer to getting back on the field after his hamstring pull and was running on the side during Saturday's practice. The same is true of fullback Carl Stewart, who appears to be closer to full speed. Fellow fullback John Douglas was wearing a boot on his right foot after spraining an ankle in Saturday's scrimmage. A timetable for his return his not known.

The Tigers will return to the practice field Sunday night as they continue to get prepared for the opening of the 2007 season. Although Saturday morning's practice wasn't heavy in terms of contact or time on the field, Dunn said it's an important day following a scrimmage because it allows them to correct mistakes and move forward.

"We just have to keep going," Dunn said. "We had a good long meeting this morning. We went over all our production and watched tape as a whole defense, which we always do. We talked about the good points, the bad points, the things we can change. Then we broke up individually and tried to set the tempo. It was another work day so we had to put yesterday behind us and learn from our mistakes.

"We've got to get a lot better, in every phase, defense, offense and kicking. We can play a lot better technique and play with a lot more emotion. What you've got to do is bring them right back out there and work the heck out of them. We stayed out extra today and ran them really hard. Then we ran them individually in our fourth quarter drills."

Taking a long look at those running drills was Tuberville. In the middle of the field as the players ran past him, he watched as the entire team had to finish 10 60-yard sprints in groups and under seven and a half minutes. They beat their goal by 22 seconds on the day much to the delight of the players.

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