Tigers Gearing Up For First Full Pad Practice

Linebacker Derrick Graves talks about making the move from running back and the prospects at the linebacker position.

Auburn, Ala.--When Auburn prepared to open spring football practice on Tuesday, Coach Tommy Tuberville talked about the importance of finding a middle linebacker before the 15 practice days are done on April 5 when the annual A-Day game takes place at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Wednesday the coaching staff took a long look at several players at the position, including senior Dontarrious Thomas, sophomore Travis Williams and freshman Mike Sherrill.

The reason Thomas may be available to change positions is due to the development of former running back Derrick Graves at the outside linebacker position. One year ago Graves was searching to find a home after playing running back and safety in his first season on the Plains. Now Graves said he is happy at linebacker and it shows in his play on the field. Learning and growing everyday on defense, he is the favorite to win a starting job heading into fall practice if Thomas stays inside at middle linebacker.

"Last year I was just making the transition to defense and learning the defense," Graves said. "Over the course of the year I watched Dontarrious Thomas a lot and he taught me a lot. The coaches also spent a lot of extra time with me and they're giving me an opportunity now to show what I've learned. Hopefully, I won't let them down."

Derrick Graves works against Karlos Dansby in a pass coverage drill.

Fighting through adversity just to get to Auburn after being ruled academically ineligible coming out of Holt High because of a ninth grade English class that he needed to retake, Graves said that he doesn't feel any pressure to fit in the starting lineup if that's the way it works going into two-a-days. He is playing at more 20 pounds heavier than when he arrived at Auburn and he is close to 220.

"I take it as an opportunity for me to get a starting position and also to learn," Graves noted. "The pressure is on me because anytime they can move DT back to will (weakside linebacker). I just hope I go out there and do well and keep the coaches faith in me."

A defense that was a good fit for the talent already on Auburn's team when it was installed last spring, Coach Gene Chizik's up-tempo, in-your-face style has been embraced fully by the returning defenders after watching it in action last season. Graves said the way the Tigers play defense makes it fun to get on the field every day.

"It's a lot easier now that I know the defense," Graves added. "It's a lot easier and a lot more fun. All the while you're working and focusing. You have to go out and have fun because if you're not you're just out there trying to get through practice."

Practicing for nearly two hours in mild weather before a late rain shower signaled the end of practice, the Tigers had their final of two opening practices in sweats and helmets Wednesday with the focus on learning and alignment. Spending a great deal of the time in passing drills and 7-on-7 skeleton drills, Tuberville said the Tigers had a much better day after struggling a little on day one of spring practice.

"We had a much better practice today, especially for the weather," Tuberville said. "The last two days we wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing lining up and running our base plays. We've actually got a lot of our offense in. It's amazing how much farther along we are this year than last year, but last year we were just putting it in. The guys feel a lot more confident, especially the quarterbacks."

Throwing the ball well both in the intermediate and deep routes, junior Jason Campbell continues to show improvement in the passing game. Even though Josh Sullivan has spent some time playing baseball this spring, he still looks to be ahead of both Wesley Hill and Brandon Cox in the race for second-team quarterback. Both Campbell and Sullivan caught the eye of Tuberville on Wednesday in drills and he said he likes the direction his offense is headed this spring.

"Jason is throwing the ball with a lot more authority and you can tell the receivers after being in this offense for a season have gotten much better," Tuberville said. "I think the defense is in for a little bit of a challenge this spring and that's going to be good."

Ben Obomanu goes up to grab a pass during Wednesday's practice.

Some of the players making a move in the first two days of spring practice are offensive lineman turned tight end Steven Ross, who has shown some athletic ability, but still has room for improvement as a receiver. At cornerback both Dee Durham and Montae Pitts had good days as did walk-on Kevin Hobbs, who is a junior transfer from Texas Southern and has shown to be a physical player with good feet. At 6-0, 179, he has the size to challenge for immediate playing time and may be a surprise this spring.

Kevin Hobbs has been a surprise the first two days of spring practice.

The Tigers will put the pads on for the first time Thursday when they work out for hundreds of coaches in town for Auburn's High School Coaching Clinic. The team will run through drills on both sides of the ball to give the coaches an idea of things to do for their teams with very little scrimmage action taking place. That will be saved for Saturday when they will have the first of three spring scrimmages at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The practice will start at 10 a.m. with the scrimmage expected to start around 10:45 a.m. There will be 70 plays with an emphasis on the kicking game.



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