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Auburn offensive tackle King Dunlap battled a sore back during preseason drills for the Tigers.
AP Photo by Todd J. Van Emst
Auburn offensive tackle King Dunlap battled a sore back during preseason drills for the Tigers.

Tigers' O-line healing
Coach hopes injuries in practice create cohesiveness

By Bradley Handwerger
DAILY Sports Writer 340-2462

AUBURN — Don Dunn and Terry Price shuttled defensive linemen in and out at one point during fall practice, keeping a fresh player in the mix during drills against the offensive line.

Hugh Nall, Auburn's offensive line coach, didn't exactly have that luxury.

"(Head coach) Tommy (Tuberville) was on me the other day saying the first-teamers looked like they were dragging," Nall recently recalled. "I said, 'Coach, they're four-deep at D-line. These guys are taking every rep.' It's been rough on them, and I think that's great now that we're through it."

Heading into Saturday's season-opening 6:45 p.m. home game against Washington State, the attrition has finally stopped, or at least been whittled down to one player.

But for most of preseason practice, there was nothing Nall could do. There has not been a point in August that he's been able to use every offensive lineman on the team.

The injury list was impressive just because of sheer size:

  • Center Joe Cope injured his knee the first day of practice, forcing him to miss several practices.
  • Backup left tackle Oscar Gonzalez had missed most of the month with a dislocated toe.
  • Backup left guard Tyronne Green spent four days in the hospital because of dehydration and an illness. He's expected to practice some today.
  • Backup right guard Leon Hart sat out several practices with an abdominal strain.
  • Left tackle King Dunlap didn't fully participate due to a sore back in the middle of camp.

    In the end, Nall said the tough stretch only can help his five starting offensive linemen. They took nearly all of the repetitions in practice, helping them form a cohesive unit.

    It also helped them work their way into better shape.

    Now, because the team has moved all Thursday practices to the morning, the players will have at least 36 hours to get their legs back.

    "I was really impressed with my first group early in camp, and then practice started taking us down," Nall said. "I hope we'll have it back by Saturday night."

    Additionally, Cope said having to work with all sorts of combinations has helped the men up front assimilate to game-type situations.

    "You never know when an injury is going to happen," Cope said.

    "People got to shift around the offensive line, so that's good to get reps at different places and work with different guys."

    Neither Cope nor right guard Tim Duckworth feel the month full of physical practices will cause the line to be any more tired than normal come Saturday night.

    "No, we're in the best shape we've ever been in through summer conditioning with coach (Kevin) Yoxall," Cope said.

    Added Duckworth: "It's the first game, so everybody's going to go out there and give 100 percent, and you know somebody's going to be tired. You have to pick people up. You have to be accountable out there. Everything will work out."

    Cope said another advantage to the first-team line working together for most of camp is that it all know where each other will be on certain plays.

    "You know exactly what's going to happen on every play," Cope said.

    "Somebody always has your back so you're not scared to mess up. You're not scared to go full speed. That's the biggest thing."

    As for the Auburn defensive line coaches rotating new players in each play, let's just say the beefy offensive guys recognize an unfair advantage when they see one.

    "We kind of get mad about that," Duckworth said. "We wish they'd leave the same guys in there. When they bring a fresh guy in there, I have to start all the way back over again. I have to come off the ball harder."

    And maybe, just maybe, Nall recognizes that despite all this group of linemen has had to overcome, things might work out because of it.

    "I saw some things today that I really like, them coming off the ball a little bit," Nall said. "I think by game time, we'll be ready."

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