"It was a good starting point," Willis notes. "Our guys came out and competed. The biggest thing we were looking for in that first scrimmage was how guys would respond under pressure...just their overall effort of getting to the ball. I think our guys came out and did a pretty good job of that, but it was just a starting point. We've got a long way to go."
Early in preseason camp is a time for backup players to step forward and show how much they've improved and what they can do heading into a new season. This year it looks as if two second-year middle linebackers have a chance to help the Tigers in a significant way behind Tray Blackmon.
"I'm very proud of Adam Herring," Willis says. "He's really come out and paid attention to detail on his assignments, his techniques, his fundamentals. Everything is right on track to where it should be right now. I really take my hat off to him.
"Also Josh Bynes," he adds. "He's doing a tremendous job also. The key word is consistency. That's one thing we've challenged Josh with from day one is being consistent. He'll come out one day and be all over the place and the next day you may not hear his name called. We kind of gave him a challenge this training camp to improve in that area and I think he has."
Spencer Pybus has been impressive his first week of practice at Auburn.
Looking for depth is always a concern at any position and that is particularly true at linebacker. Last season the Tigers appeared stacked at the position, but injuries depleted that total in a hurry. Willis said at the moment he's got a solid group of starters Chris Evans/Merrill Johnson, Tray Blackmon, Craig Stevens along with Courtney Harden, Josh Bynes, Herring, and a newcomer in Spencer Pybus that has come on strong.
"Pybus has really stepped up," Willis says. "He's one I'm going to keep my eye on. He keeps pushing and keeps pushing. He may have a chance to help us out this season."
Recruited by just a handful of smaller schools and Duke before Auburn came through with a late offer, Pybus was considered by many a reach for the Tigers to sign, but Willis says he knew what he was getting out of the athletic linebacker and he's done nothing this preseason to change his thoughts.
"He came to camp for two strong years, he came and competed," Willis points out. "Every year I saw him get better and better. The kid can run fast, he can jump high, and he can cover. Things like that kind of show up. Plus, he loves Auburn. He was one that every year came back, he was loyal and came every time we had a camp. That's one thing that means a lot to us.
"He's doing some good things out there," he adds. "We don't recruit guys to redshirt. He came in and he has a chance to play if he can come out and keep getting better."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Auburn practiced for just under two hours in shorts and shoulder pads on Monday afternoon after a full pad practice in the morning. A lot of time was spent on special teams as the Tigers worked on kickoff returns with Tristan Davis, Brad Lester, Ben Tate and Philip Pierre-Louis all getting reps.
Kicking off, Wes Byrum did a good job with his two kicks as both reach crossed the goal line. Morgan Hull also kicked twice with the first reaching the three-yard line and the second reaching the goal line.
The Tigers are scheduled to return to practice at 3 p.m. Tuesday.