"We have always been a physical defense," the safety says. "For us to have the kind of defense we want to have our key will be to play smart and tackle well. We are going to continue to be a physical defense and we need to make sure we all know our roles."
Rhoads, who left the University of Pittsburgh earlier this year to take over the Auburn defense, has been more animated in the first week of preseason than he was in spring training he was working on getting a feel for his new team.
"We are all getting on the same page and feeling more comfortable with each other," Etheridge notes. "
The Tigers are looking for backup help behind projected starters Etheridge and Mike McNeil. One of the guys being looked at is true freshman Christian Thompson from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who says his first week of college practice has been a whirlwind.
"It's been fast, it's been a grind, you have to work hard every day and as a freshman you have a lot to prove to the coaches and to the veteran players," he says. "I learn something new every day. Coach (Paul) Rhoads puts in new plays and new schemes every day. I think I am learning them pretty easily, although I have messed up a couple of times, but that is pretty normal."
Thompson says he is currently 6-2, 198 pounds. "It is a good weight for me," he says. "I came in to Auburn this summer at 187 so I have gained weight. I am still trying to gain more weight, but right now I feel pretty good where I am at."
Thompson began his senior season of high school at safety, but was asked to move to linebacker to shore up the St. Thomas Aquinas defense. He did so well at the position that he was a key figure in leading his team to the state title last December.
"At first it really got to me getting used to playing safety again," he says. "I think I am adjusting pretty quick to being back at safety. I feel like I can help out the team."
Thompson says that his first week of college football practice hasn't produced any big surprises. "It has been just like people have been telling me," he points out. "You have to work hard every day and you are going to have to fight for your position and prove to the coaches you are a ball player."
Another freshman, defensive end Jomarcus Savage, says his first week has been a challenging one. "It's been kind of crazy," he says. "The first day was real hectic getting used to the intensity and speed so I was experiencing a lot of fatigue. As the week moved along, I started coming along, too." Savage, who began the week at 280 pounds, notes he has lost around seven pounds this week.
Defensive ends coach Terry Price is teaching Savage to play both the strongside and weakside end position, but the focus during the early part of practice will be on learning the assignments on the strongside where Michael Goggans is the projected starter. Antonio Coleman is a returning starter at the other end spot.
[ In other news and notes:
*Freshman wide receiver Philip Pierre-Louis caught an 80-yard touchdown pass on a fade route from freshman walk-on Brent Poole in the scrimmage. However, as impressive as the catch and throw was, the play was negated by an illegal formation. Poole is from Charles Henderson High in Troy.
*All of the QBs had a solid day throwing the football and it is doubtful that after grading the scrimmage video there will be any change with the either/or situation for the No. 1 quarterback spot featuring Kodi Burns and Chris Todd.
*Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Darrell Roseman has missed the last two seasons due to leg problems, but is making progress according to defensive line coach Don Dunn. "He is getting better," Dunn says. "He still shows a little sign of the injury, but I think he is becoming more comfortable being in pads and being back on the football field. I think he is getting his confidence back."
Jerraud Powers has developed into a reliable force in the secondary.
*Rhoads, who doubles as defensive coordinator and secondary coach, says a focus of practice is looking for depth at cornerback after losing Aairon Savage for the season due to an ACL injury. Jerraud Powers and Walt McFadden are the favorites to win a starting spot. After those two, it is wide open.
The Tigers have four freshmen cornerbacks and sophomore Ryan Williams trying to break into the playing rotation. "It is extremely important for a couple of the young guys to step up," he says. "You would love to have at least three corners (ready for game action) and would prefer to have four. As you get into nickel and dime packages, the more corners you have on your football team usually the better those packages are. One, two or three are going to have to step up and be game ready by August 30th."
Freshmen Neiko Thorpe, Harry Adams, D'Antoine Hood and Drew Cole signed in February. Another possibility at cornerback, true freshman T'Sharvan Bell, is rehabbing from a broken bone in his foot he suffered in a pickup basketball game this summer. The Tigers lost three senior corners off the 2007 team who saw significant playing time--Patrick Lee, Jonathan Wilhite and Zach Gilbert.
Powers notes that all of the rookie cornerbacks have plenty of work to do, but says he saw some good signs from the group on Saturday and says they got more comfortable with the speed of the scrimmage as the session progressed.