News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Auburn's Lorenzo Ferguson separates receiver Terrell Zachery, right, from the ball during a scrimmage Saturday.
AP photo by Todd J. Van Emst
Auburn's Lorenzo Ferguson separates receiver Terrell Zachery, right, from the ball during a scrimmage Saturday.

Defense dominates scrimmage
AU works for 125 plays to
cap week of practice

By Ross Dellenger
sports@ 340-2460

AUBURN — Lee Ziemba's face was beet red and his eyes looked heavy. The offensive tackle's wet hair from a recent shower caused water to spill down his face and onto his shirt. A smile was nowhere to be found as he sat and interviewed with reporters.

On the other side of the Rane Room, defensive end Quentin Groves was all smiles as he hopped around and joked with teammates.

"Quentin Groves, everybody!" he yelled to reporters upon entering the room to be interviewed. With a big grin on his face, he tossed his bag to the side and plopped down on a leather chair.

Auburn capped a long first week of preseason practice with a 125-play, full-contact scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday morning. It was closed to the public and reporters, but there was no doubt from chatting with players that it was a scrimmage dominated by the defense.

"We didn't look good on offense at all today," said running back Brad Lester, one of three Auburn running backs used Saturday. "Our defense is real good."

Most players echoed that sentiment.

"Offensively, we got beat pretty good today," said starting quarterback Brandon Cox, who played only two series and was the only player off limits to contact. "It's just one of those scrimmages that didn't go our way."

A young, inexperienced offensive line took most of the criticism for the lackluster performance. The line, which lost four of five starters from last season, was the biggest question mark coming into preseason practice, and after Saturday's scrimmage, it remains a problem for the team.

"They told me they were having a hard time concentrating out there because they are so tired and it's so hot," Cox said.

Added head coach Tommy Tuberville: "We're looking for the right combination on the offensive line. This time next week, hopefully we'll have it found."

Ziemba, a true freshman, seems to be a favorite to fill one of the four open spots, but no one has been christened a starter, just as no one has been chosen as the backup quarterback.

Quarterbacks Neil Caudle and Blake Field rotated in with the first and second team after Cox was yanked to spare him injury. Caudle was sacked and suffered a sprained throwing shoulder early in the scrimmage.

"It's going to knock him way behind," Tuberville said.

Ensminger rotated in with the first stringers also, but it was true freshman quarterback Kodi Burns, playing with the third stringers, who served as the bright spot for the offense.

The speedy Burns broke several long runs with his scrambling ability. He also threw a 50- to 60-yard touchdown pass to another true freshman, Huntsville native Quindarius Carr.

"When he stiff-armed one of our linebackers and then shook two people, I was like, 'What?' " Groves said, shaking his head in disbelief when talking about the Burns.

Defensive end Se'Derrick Marks, like others, compared Auburn's situation with Cox and Burns to Florida's scenario last season with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.

"It's hard to keep him in the pocket. A lot of guys got their hands on him, and he still didn't go down. It's like Chris Leak and Tebow. (We) got Cox and Burns," Marks said. "We're going to see where it goes."

Tuberville said he would not use Burns in that role unless he won the No. 2 job. If Burns does not win the backup job, there is a good chance he will redshirt this season.

"If he's three or four, he'll be a better quarterback five years from now, than four," he said.

Other highlights from the two-hour scrimmage:

  • True freshman kicker Wes Byrum, who was competing for the kickoff and field goal duties, is now officially in the mix for the punting job after punting in Saturday's scrimmage.

    A groin injury to punter Ryan Shoemaker earlier in the week has sidelined him temporarily in the race for the starting job. Walk-on Patrick Tatum and Byrum are competing. Tuberville said both averaged "over 40 yards" per punt during the scrimmage.

    "The kicking game, which has been one of our biggest concerns, is not as big," Tuberville said. "It's kind of moving off the injured list."

  • According to players, Burns and Ensminger each threw an interception. Jonathan Wilhite and Lorenzo Ferguson picked off the passes.

    "We made some interceptions in the end zone, stopped some drives," Tuberville said.

    He also commented on the play of Decatur High graduate Jerraud Powers. Powers is the No. 2 cornerback behind Wilhite. Tuberville said Powers "tackled well" in his first real contact after offseason shoulder surgery.

  • The wide receivers didn't get many catches during the run-heavy scrimmage, but Prechae Rodriguez made "a few good plays," Tuberville said.

    Cox said Rodriguez, a 6-foot-4, 208-pounder, had a drop early, but recovered to make a couple of good grabs. Cox added that receiver Tim Hawthorne, who worked with the second and third teams, made some good catches.

  • Auburn tailbacks ran by committee during the scrimmage. Lester, Ben Tate and Mario Fannin rotated throughout. Tuberville has not clearly stated a definitive starter, though Lester seemed to have that nabbed after spring. Tuberville has said that different running backs may start throughout the season.

    Tate, a 5-foot-11, 211-pound sophomore, impressed the ninth-year coach.

    "Ben Tate made a good cutback one time for about 30 yards," he said.

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