Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville was not pleased with the kickoff coverage in the opening night victory over Kansas State and that was the first order of business on Tuesday as the Tigers worked out for two hours.
Another area of concern, the offensive line, got special attention at the practice. Position coach Hugh Nall pushed his linemen hard, leaving a group of extremely tired players at the end of the hot and humid session.
Tuberville says he expects to see progress in the line in week two and he also expects to see some of the backups in the game vs. South Florida. For the opener, Nall made no substitutions in the group that included King Dunlap and Lee Ziemba at tackles, Mike Berry and Tyronne Green at the guard spots and Jason Bosley at center.
Nall also says he expects to see the group, which included three first-time starters in junior Green, redshirt freshman Berry and true freshman Ziemba, play better in game two. The most experienced player in the bunch, returning starter at left tackle Dunlap, struggled vs. Kansas State. Nall says he isn't sure why that happened. "He just didn't perform," the coach says. "He just wasn't up to par."
Tuberville, Nall and offensive coordinator Al Borges all had praise for the hustle of the two youngest members of the starting offensive front, Ziemba and Berry. "They didn't always block the right guys, but they tried to block somebody and then somebody else," Tuberville points out.
Commenting on the offensive line as a group, Nall says, "I thought the tempo started real good in the game and I thought we went down for a while. At the end we said, ‘Hey, we are not going to lose this game.' And that was good to see. They went back out there with that attitude on the last drive and did some good things. Hopefully, we can built on that."
Hugh Nall (left) watches his linemen at Tuesday's practice.
With the Labor Day holiday and no classes on Monday and the late kickoff on Saturday night, the Tigers changed their practice routine and took Sunday off to rest following a physical game and they practiced on Monday, which is normally a day off.
While the defense earned praise for its play from the head coach, the play of the offense remains a concern going into a game against what Tuberville calls a challenging opponent in South Florida.
One of the few bright spots on offense in week one was the play of tight end Gabe McKenzie, who caught four passes including the game-winning touchdown. "I would say that was my best game at Auburn," the redshirt sophomore states.
Borges says he likes what he is seeing from McKenzie, who shares playing time with senior Cole Bennett and sophomore Tommy Trott. "Gabe has been a very, very steady player for us," Borges says. "He is an incredibly physical kid. He is a big, strong, strapping kid that can run. He has caught the ball well for us. He has blocked pretty consistently for us.
"Like I said, our tight ends have to be a big factor and they were the other night--particularly Gabe receiving-wise," Borges adds. "All of them in one way, shape or form."
In other news:
*After not getting to carry the football except on a kickoff return, redshirt freshman tailback Mario Fannin should be a part of the offense at tailback vs. South Florida, Borges says. "We are going to find a way to get him in there this week. Mario is working his tail off. We are going to find a way to explore his skills this week."
Fannin, who was sidelined for part of preseason practice with a groin pull, says he is back to full speed.
*Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hamstring) is expected to be available for duty this week and the same is true of kicker Wes Byrum (ankle injury). Middle linebacker Tray Blackmon, who has an ankle sprain, saw only limited work on Tuesday and is questionable for the game as is wide receiver Montez Billings who missed the opener with a hamstring problem. Safety Aairon Savage (ankle) is also questionable for the opener. Tuberville says that tailback Brad Lester, who was suspended for the first game, has not had a change in his status and it is unknown when he will be available for game action.
*Game two opponent South Florida, a team that finished 9-4 last year, defeated Elon 28-13 in the opener in Tampa. The Bulls got three touchdowns from freshman tailback Mike Ford who scored on a one-yard pass, a 21-yard run and one-yard run. He carried the football six times for 83 yards. Tuberville notes that Ford is a talented player recruited by Auburn and many other colleges.
*South Florida's roster is dominated by players from the state of Florida, but has one player from the state of Alabama, sophomore tight end Ben Busbee from Mobile. The Tigers have 21 players from the state of Florida.
*The Tigers got injured quarterback Neil Caudle (shoulder separation) back at Tuesday's practice, but lost another redshirt freshman QB, Steven Ensminger, who was at home packing his bags to transfer to Louisiana Tech to start classes there on Thursday. Ensminger, who was working with the scout team, is making the move in hopes of earning playing time after sitting out a season under NCAA transfer rules.