Tuberville Looking For Help From Freshmen

Coach Tommy Tuberville talks about what freshmen he can see playing for the Tigers this season.

Auburn, Ala.--In the last four seasons, the Auburn Tigers have failed to redshirt just seven players in their first year on the Plains. This season that number could be equaled as a talented incoming class has a variety of players pushing for playing time as the Tigers get ready to open the season against Kansas State in less than two weeks.

Coach Tommy Tuberville says while it's not the ideal thing to do, if they're the best players available then he has no problems putting them on the field.

"We're looking at a lot more," Tuberville says. "Of course, Michael McNeil, Bo Harris, Antoine Carter, Slusher (Brent Slusher), Ziemba (Lee Ziemba), Pugh (Ryan Pugh), Slaughter (Chris Slaughter) and Byrum (Wes Byrum) is a lot more than we normally have. I think there are certain situations where some of these guys were a little bit farther along physically. Other than Chris Slaughter, they were on campus at least two months.

"All of them have a different personality, but this group came in hungry," Tuberville adds. "(They were) in tuned to what they were getting in to. Some of them this year came in and you could tell they got a little bit overwhelmed by the intensity and complexity of the offense and defense. It was a little bit different than what they've had to learn."

Safety Michael McNeil will be a second team guy for the Tigers this season and also see action on special teams.

Of all the players on the list Tuberville gave on Sunday, perhaps none have made as much of a splash in as little time as Slaughter has accomplished. A late arrival to Auburn after the NCAA Clearinghouse decided to take a longer and slower look at prep school players this year, the athletic but very skinny receiver from Peach County High in Georgia has made up some ground but Tuberville doesn't know if it's been enough to warrant playing him this season.

"Chris should have been here a lot earlier," Tuberville says. "Chris is natural. He does things easily, but it's just mentally--can he do it? The only reason I'm keeping him up now is to give him that chance. The tale will be told on him obviously the first few games. I'm not going to put him in there and him not know what to do. We're just giving him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. He's done well but makes a lot of mistakes mentally. He's gifted. He's one of those guys you know how good he can be, but if you don't know it mentally you can't do it. Is he going to play? I don't know but we're trying to give him a chance."

While players such as the first team right tackle Ziemba, first team kicker Byrum, McNeil, Harris and Slusher are almost guaranteed to be playing at least in some capacity this season, a player who Tuberville would like to redshirt but might not be able to is Pugh. A talented center prospect from Hoover, Pugh has worked a great deal with the first team offense this preseason while incumbent starter Jason Bosley was out with a bruised knee. Tuberville says that showed him Pugh could get the job done if needed, but it's something he hopes he doesn't have to see this year.

"Ryan Pugh is practicing with the second team, but is he going to play?" Tuberville asks. "I don't know. He's one that has a chance. He's got a lot of room for improvement, but he's kind of like Chris. He's a natural. He's learning. He's not ready to go out there and play an entire game. He could go out there and get us out of a game. He could go into a game and play if Jason got hurt and that's exactly what we would do. That would knock him back. If we knew that Jason Bosley would be unscathed all year long there is no doubt what we would do, but you've got to have another guy ready."

The players who don't make it into the playing rotation will more than likely spend their first season on the scout team, something few if any enjoy doing. Several players such as Carter, Kodi Burns and possibly Chaz Ramsey will continue to work with the first and second team for at least the time being while also getting some work on the scout team. Tuberville says that's something that is normal at least until they get into the meat of the schedule.

"It's hard to be on the scout team," Tuberville says. "Somebody has to do it. That's the reason it's competitive and everybody tries to make the travel squad or two deep. Sometimes we keep a number three guy and if we do it's for a couple of weeks just in case we might want to look at them longer. There are some guys that will go back and forth."

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