Aug. 28, 2007
AUBURN - The Auburn football team worked out for two hours in shells Tuesday morning at the practice fields behind the Athletics Complex as the Tigers inched closer to the season opener Saturday against Kansas State.
The Tigers continued to focus on scout team work to prepare themselves for the Wildcats. The practice also featured special teams, individual, position and team drills.
Head coach Tommy Tuberville addressed the media afterwards at his first game-week press conference of the season.
"It's time to get started. Our guys are excited," said Tuberville. "On offense and defense, this is the first time we have had this much depth top to bottom. We pretty much have a two-deep that we feel can play in the SEC, but a lot of that will be told in the next week."
Auburn will return to the practice fields Wednesday with a workout scheduled for 5 p.m. CT.
Auburn opens the 2007 season Sept. 1 when the Tigers host Kansas State at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game begins at 6:45 p.m. CT and will be televised nationally by ESPN.
The Tigers are 87-25-2 all-time in season-opening games and are 5-3 under Tuberville. The Tigers have won 16 of their last 21 season-opening games.
Individual tickets to the Kansas State, South Florida, Mississippi State, New Mexico State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee Tech games are currently available. To purchase tickets log on to www.autigertickets.com or call 1-800-AUB-1957.
QUOTES FROM Tommy Tuberville PRESS CONFERENCE
"It's time to get started. Our guys are excited. I don't know a lot to talk about other than what everybody pretty much knows what we've been working on the last few weeks. What we are working on now and what we are working on today is to try to get everyone to the game on Saturday and kind of know what we are doing and get as many faces into game and into practice as we can. The first three or four games are going to be a game by committee. On offense and defense, this is the first time we have had this much depth top to bottom. We pretty much have a two-deep that we feel like can play in the SEC but a lot of that will be told in the next week.
"We are going to play a lot of players offensively. You will see a lot of running backs. You'll see a lot of offensive lineman and a lot of tight ends, obviously. You'll see eight wide receivers and one quarterback, that's probably a common thread across the country. You'll see a lot of offensive players. That's what we feel like we need to do going into these first couple of non-conference games to find out where we are at and who can play. It's a good mixture. I think Al Borges and his coaches have done a good job of putting this thing together and trying to get as many young faces mixed in with some experienced players from top to bottom to try and get as much production as we can.
"We've had a very good physical practice on offense. We've pushed them hard. One thing that you always feel like there's a doubt in your mind is how far can you go in the first game? How good of shape are you in? Have you done enough running? We felt like we were in great shape coming into two-a-days. We haven't done much running because of the heat, but we have pushed them hard in practice. We feel like they're in good shape. You're really not in good game shape until you get going and playing and find out who can push themselves to the limit. You can tell on our sidelines that we have guys going in and out all of the time. We try to keep them as fresh as we can. That's a big question mark going into this game. How much can they play? How far can the starters go? How productive can they be in the third and fourth quarter after going very hard in the first half? That will be something that we'll watch, and we will hopefully be able to play as many guys as we can.
"The defensive side is the same way. We feel like we have 10 defensive linemen that can play. The secondary is the same way. The linebackers are different because we don't have as much depth losing Steve Gandy. We feel like we are going to have to play a couple of young guys. Again, defense is like offense - you can't play the whole game. We try to play the starters sixty to seventy percent and the backups thirty to forty percent depending on how well they play.
"This year on special teams we have all new kickers, punters and holders. We want to put as much experience as we can with those guys. Along with the new kickoff rule, we will add a few guys to special teams that are not down the line that don't have experience with our starters, you'll see that Saturday night.
"Kansas State is coming in from a new conference. You would think that after six months of talking to people, looking at film and dissecting them as much as possible that you would know a lot about them, but you really don't. Going into the first game you would think that you would know what to expect. They have changed some coaches. They've changed some philosophy on both sides of the ball. They have some players coming back they will be an experienced team probably more experienced than us. It's a different school than we normally play and a conference that you can't compare that much. It's going to be a challenge.
"Ron Prince has done an excellent after his first year taking his team to a bowl they have played very well. I think he would probably want his team to play a little bit more consistent and that was probably their motto going into two-a-days, to play more consistent through the year. It's going to be a great challenge."
On Freshmen Playing...
"Well we don't know how much they are going to play. There will be several that are going to play just looking on the offensive side of the ball. Lee Ziemba will be a game-time decision with Coach Hugh Nall. Lee will play and we have him there on the two-deep. We put that together with what's left of practice. It all depends on injury and how the coaches feel going into the game, but that's how they feel on who is going into the game first. Lee Ziemba has matured and has come in with an attitude that he wants to play. He is a quick learner but you have to be on the offensive line.
"We have had long discussions on center Ryan Pugh. We think he is going to be an outstanding SEC center. I think he is one of the most improved guys in such a short period of time. We feel very good about him but he is the backup. It all depends on how Jason Bosley does. There is a lot of competition at that position.
"Chris Slaughter hasn't been with us but a couple of weeks, but he is a natural at wide receiver. Obviously we would like him to be a little bit bigger. He did not make it on campus in the summer and did not go through the weight program. He'll gain weight as we go and get bigger and stronger. He has a great natural ability to play wide receiver and Coach Greg Knox has spent a lot of time in the short time that he has been here. So it will be interesting to see how he plays he is not well versed on everything we are doing. He will make some mistakes. As we go through the year, he will be a great addition to our offense.
"Defensively, Mike McNeil is all we thought he will be - an outstanding football player at Auburn and in this conference for the next four years. He will be on the second team right now, but we will ease him into the lineup as we go through the season. He'll begin to get more and more playing time. He's young and new and when you play a safety position, you want to build his confidence up. He has really come in and earned the respect of the players with how he's practiced and the things he's been able to grasp. He's going to be a heck of a football player for us.
"Brent Slusher had an injury the last few weeks. He has not practiced a lot. We do have him scheduled to play. It all depends on how he reacts. Hopefully, he will be able to overcome that because I think he has the ability to play to help us this year.
"Then if you look at the kickers, Wesley Byrum will be our field goal guy and could be our kickoff guy. Wesley has matured in the months that he has been here working with our holders and snappers and going through the competition that we have had. He continues to get better not only as the extra point and field goal kicker but possibly as kickoff.
"Bo Harris will play. He has been here a long time signing the year before. Bo had a shoulder problem missed a couple weeks of practice. He has done well in practice, and he has executed the defenses well. He is a very good athlete that we are excited for having the next four years.
"Antoine Carter is probably one of the most natural defensive ends that we have brought here in awhile. He's fast he's quick and has a lot of speed. He is a disciplined player to be only 17 or18 years old. He will give us the opportunity to play Sen'Derrick Marks inside some. He has been playing outside some and doesn't have much experience at tackle or nose guard. Antoine continues to learn the speed of the game and how it is played in college. I think he will be a guy that can give us a lot of depth on the defense. He is one of just a few guys that are just a natural at his position."
Do you recall ever having to play so many freshmen in so many key spots?
No, not really. It runs in cycles. I don't mind playing freshmen. You know going in that you're going to have to live with the mistakes they make. I don't care how good a football player they are, how mature they are. It's still different from what they played (in high school). It's faster. As we talked the last couple weeks about who's going to play, they all understand if we throw the ball to Chris Slaughter on a fifty-yard go route and he drops it, it's our fault as much as his. He hadn't been out there that much. Same thing with Bo Harris playing linebacker if he lines up in the wrong position. That's what happens when you play freshmen. You're going to have to live with what they do and how they play. Hopefully they'll improve. Hopefully they don't lose their confidence. Again, this group we just talked about is going to be very beneficial to this football team later on in the year as we get started for SEC play."
How's the offensive line coming together?
"It's gone well. It'll be much better in five weeks than it is right now. Coach Nall couldn't have worked them any harder. He's pushed them. They've had through two-a-days tons of meeting time. A ton goes into the offensive line. Again, it's a team within a team. Five guys have to play well with each other. They have to communicate. That's what you worry about going into a game like this with a possible red-shirt freshman and a freshman playing a lot. We know what they can do physically. Mentally we feel like they're pretty sharp on the game plan. It's getting in the game situations where things are a little tight, are they going to be able to hold their composure and communicate?
"It's going to be fun to watch this offensive line. We've got a good group. It's the best group we've had in a while in terms of numbers and having enough depth to where if someone needs a break we can put someone in. The last eight years that hasn't been the case. We've had centers playing tackle and maybe tackles playing guard. Maybe a center like Jonathan Palmer playing all three positions. "
On wide receivers...
"I think Rod Smith is a guy that's proven himself. Prechae Rodriguez has gotten better. The thing that's concerned us with Prechae over the years is consistency in catching the ball. He's done a lot better job of doing that in two-a-days. He's tall. He knows the offense better. Last year was really the first year he played. I think having a guy with his height and wingspan can make a difference. He made several good catches last year.
"I've talked about this guy for a while. I think the guy that's going to make us a better offense is Robert Dunn. Last year was his first time really to play. He made some mistakes but he's matured. He's grown up. He's become more of a leader for us. When you start doing that you feel a lot better about yourself. He's got a lot of confidence. I think Robert's going to be a heck of a football player for us. Last year the inside position was not that productive. When you play three wide receivers you've got to have a guy who's productive inside. We just weren't as productive as we needed to be."
Have preparations for this opener been typical or have they been a little more difficult with the Kansas State scheme and coaching changes?
"It's a little harder not knowing what they're going to do on defense. We feel like they're going to be pretty much what we run. We looked at some things where their coach came from and there's not a lot of difference. You'll always have a different philosophy on how much you do blitz or don't blitz, how many players you play, all those little things that factor in. They've got some other new coaches also. There's always the unknown. But it's no different. We've got all our coaches back and we've changed a lot. They won't know everything we're doing. They'll have to adjust to it as they go as we will as we go. That's what's always interesting about the first game. It's always dangerous. It's always good to have an experienced team that won't panic when you make adjustments in the first game. Neither on of us is really all that experienced at every position. That's what's interesting about college football. There's always going to be something happen you didn't expect."
As good as the defense was last year, could this one be better? "We hope. There were times last year where we looked like a good defense and a couple plays later we weren't. We gave up more big plays last year than we ever had. That was because we were more aggressive. When you're more aggressive you're going to have to live and die with that.
"I think to some degree we've changed our defense a little bit. We've gone back to a little more 4-3 to help in those areas. I looked at the players. We've got a lot of guys who can play defense. We'll be able to better judge this defense probably around the fifth game of the season as we get all the wrinkles ironed out and the new guys in. Potentially this defense could be as good as or better than the one last year. But also this will be a different schedule. We could be better but still give up more points than we did last year."
Do you see Brandon Cox coming in with a bit of a chip on his shoulder?
"I've always, in my career, watched these fifth-year quarterbacks and they never failed to come in and play great. I'd be shocked if Brandon didn't have a great year. He's worked hard. He's focused in every practice. He's worked with the younger guys. He's worked extra with the receivers. He knows the offense. This is a hard offense. This is not something you walk in the first day and feel good about running.
"I talk to Kodi Burns every day. His head's still spinning. It just takes you a while to catch on. This is Brandon's third year to start. He's had a great career to this point. We'd sure love to send him out the right way and see him healthy all year long so he can be as productive as we think he can be. He's our leader on the field on offense. Your going to about as good as you quarterback in this offense. The ball's going to be in his hands Saturday. Hopefully he will have the year we think he can have."
Will Brandon be more mobile this year?
"He wants to be. When he first got to Auburn he would stand in the pocket probably a little too long. Last year we couldn't get him to throw the ball away. We gave up a lot of sacks last year. He's got the mobility to move in and out of the pocket. He's not a sprinter by any means but he can move. He can get away from the rush. He can put pressure on linebackers if they're blitzing. I think just watching him the last couple weeks; he's got a little something up his sleeve. I think he understands what he needs to do to make himself and the team better."
Is Wes Byrum definitely going to be the kick-off guy?
"No. We'll see as we get through the week who's got the hot hand. Whoever's going to be the most consistent. We'll watch them even up to warm up. With the new rules it's going to be a bonus if you've got a good kicker. If you moved Matt Clark back five yards last year, fifty percent of his kicks would have been returned instead of ninety percent touchbacks. There's going to be a lot more excitement with kick off returns this year."
Has it been beneficial to have no National Championship talk?
"We like the situation that other people are picked to win the conference and the nation. There's a lot of water under the bridge between now and then. I tell them every year, get out there and do the best you can. Get better every practice. Get better every game. Play together as a team. It will all work itself out. You start thinking about things like that instead of taking it one at a time and you're going to have problems."