"It was a fun practice," senior center Ryan Pugh told Inside the Auburn Tigers. "It was a real physical today. There was some real competing going on there. There is a lot of good competition, even for the starters. The second team is a lot better than it was last year.
"It's always more fun to put on the pads," Pugh pointed out. "Going in shorts can get monotonous at times. The coaches know that and the players know that.
"You use the time in shorts to get your plays down, your schemes down and learn your technique and then when you put the pads on you can't throw that out the window," Pugh said. "You have to be able to line up when there is more pressure and be able to play."
Pugh is a three-year starter coming into his final season for the Tigers. A player with almost as much game experience on the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Craig Stevens, also gave the first full contact practice a thumbs up.
"Practice went good considering it was the first day in pads," Stevens said of Saturday's session at Jordan-Hare Stadium. "A lot of guys were flying around out there. I didn't see much of a sign of guys not doing things. Yox (Coach Kevin Yoxall) kept us in great shape so I feel like we picked up where we left off."
Linebacker coach Ted Roof is preparing Stevens to be able to play wherever he is needed at the three linebacker positions that were hit hard by depth issues last fall.
Commenting on his expectations for the defense his senior year, Stevens said, "I know for a fact we will be better, especially with us having more depth this year. I am trying to take some of the younger guys under my wing and trying to get them to play up to par the way we need for us to be a dominant defense."
Emory Blake, a player who contributed last fall as a true freshman, has a chance to see an expanded role at wide receiver this year. Blake said he was eager to get the pads on and compete for a starting spot.
"It went real good," he said of Saturday's practice. "It was real physical. Everybody was excited for the first day of pads. The coaches kept reminding us we have to remember our alignment and assignments and the other things that are important and not get too excited about our first day in pads.
"It was fun being out there and hitting again," Blake added. "There was a lot of energy and the defense was swarming out there."
The practice was the first in pads for early high school graduates Jessel Curry at linebacker and defensive end Craig Sanders. The same was true for junior college transfers Cameron Newton (quarterback) and offensive tackles Brandon Mosley and Roszell Gayden.
"I was really proud of those five guys," head coach Gene Chizik said. "Today is a big day for those guys. You know, the pads go on the first time. I think their nerves...they are nervous as we expect. I am really proud of those guys. I really think they did well.
"Jessel and Craig coming from high school, obviously there were some nerves at the beginning of the day, but they both looked like they settled down and played. It was business as usual after they realized the game is just a little faster and they got use to the speed of the game. Cameron, Brandon and Roszell Gayden, I am sure they adapted and adjusted a little bit better than the high school guys because it is not completely new to them."
"I think they are both eager and willing and want to learn the system and want to do well," Grimes said. "The hard thing with them right now is that they are working so hard just to learn the offensive system, we can't tell how how talented they are or how they are going to play because their heads are spinning so much right now you can't really see how much ability they have.
"The later part of spring ball will be much more telling than the beginning for those guys once they feel more confident in what they are doing and they will play faster and with more confidence, but I think they are off to a good start," Chizik said.
Grimes noted that Mosley and Gayden are sharing reps with the first unit and he said he doesn't have a timetable for selecting the starter. He said the battle could go on until the week of the opening game.
Grimes said he is seeing signs of improvement from the backup offensive linemen, including senior guard Bart Eddins, who is getting work with the first unit with Mike Berry being held out of contact work this spring after having offseason surgery. Grimes noted this is a big spring for Eddins to show the coaching staff he is ready to see more game action.
The Tigers worked out for two hours on Saturday and then the coaching staff entertained prospects in for another Junior Day.
Chizik noted that he generally liked what he saw, including the full contact work that was limited to three periods. "I thought we had some good physicality in those three periods," Chizik said. "We wanted to start out making a physical day of it, but we wanted to be smart considering our numbers."
Mario Fannin is working at tailback this spring.
News and Notes: Mario Fannin, who is trying to win the starting tailback job with Ben Tate graduated, said he is excited about the opportunity. Chizik said the senior has the right stuff to succeed. "I think Mario did some good things today," the coach noted. "Mario is very talented, he has great speed, he is extremely well built, low to the ground. He has great leverage when he runs. He has really good vision. He has a chance to be a good back in this league."...Jared Cooper is working exclusively at center this spring. "The backup center position is very important to us," Grimes said. In the past Cooper has also played guard and tackle.
John Sullen, who started one game last season at guard, is working exclusively at guard this spring...Chizik said he liked what he saw from Cam Newton in his first full contact practice. At this time last year the quarterback was trying to win a starting spot at Blinn Junior College. Chizik said the newcomer is "really doing a nice job."...Newton and the other quarterbacks are off limits to contact in spring practices...Dontae Aycock, who is trying to earn playing time at tailback, said he feels a lot more comfortable at the position to start spring drills than he did to start fall drills. The former high school quarterback is 5-10, 215 pounds and says he believes that will be a good playing weight for him...Chizik said the energy level is what stood out to him about Saturday's practice.