AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes was quick to acknowledge his concerns about depth after only a week of practice, confident in his starting five but wary of what’s behind them.
He added a caveat, however.
“It is a concern,” he said. “But we’re not playing tomorrow.”
The Tigers’ first unit up front appears to be set, with Lee Ziemba at left tackle, Mike Berry at left guard, Ryan Pugh at center, Byron Isom at right guard and Andrew McCain at right tackle.
“If they keep making progress, yeah, I feel like we’ve got the makings of a really good solid first unit,” Grimes said.
It’s the backups that are full of question marks and inexperience. That group includes Jared Cooper, Bart Eddins, A.J. Greene and Darrell Roseman, four players who have not seen significant action in an actual game. Vance Smith, a converted tight end who added 40 pounds in the offseason, is still adjusting to a new position.
“I’m pleased with his progress but he’s still not ready to play,” Grimes said. “I love the kid, he tries so hard, it means so much to him. He’s got a lot of toughness about him. I think he will help us, but I don’t know when.”
Freshmen John Sullen and Andre Harris remain works in progress and Florida State transfer Aubrey Phillips is not currently practicing because of a medical issue.
“There’s not anybody at this point that I’m ready to single out and say that they are really this close to being ready to play,” Grimes said of the backups.
With Mike McNeil still sidelined with a broken leg, Mike Slade and Drew Cole have rotated reps at the safety spot opposite of starter Zac Etheridge.
“You know both of them want to play,” safeties coach Tommy Thigpen said. “They come in every day with pad and paper and they’re ready to go. They ask a million questions and they critique themselves as hard as anybody.”
Coaches have been unable to give a return date for McNeil, who broke his leg last April during a scrimmage. Thigpen said the junior, who made 65 tackles last season, won’t come back until he’s at 100 percent to avoid any setbacks, meaning there is a definite scenario in which either Slade or Cole starts when the season begins.
“I’m impressed with what Slade has brought to the table. He’s played really smart out there and he’s really trying to be physical,” Thigpen said. “Cole is the same way. It’s going to be an interesting battle.”
Freshman wide receiver Emory Blake learned a thing or two about football from his father, former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake. After only a week of practice, it’s shown.
Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor has been impressed with how polished Blake’s game is for being a freshman.
“If you tell him to take a six-inch step, he’s going to give it to you,” Taylor said. “I’m sure that’s part of his upbringing and the coaching that he had, but also his father being a quarterback. He understands windows, he understands tempo. That gives him a chance.”
Blake, along with fellow freshman DeAngelo Benton, could push for playing time immediately, although Taylor wants to withhold any pronouncements about Blake until he sees him handle a full-contact situation.
“I like to tell the defense, slant’s coming, and throw it to him,” Taylor said. “And then see what he does. And if he’s able to do that, then he can show that he can play.”
Two players are no longer on the men’s basketball roster. Indiana transfer Brandon McGee was dismissed from the team last week and Francis Aihe was placed on a medical hardship, a team spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
The 6-foot-7, 210-pound McGee practiced but did not play with the Tigers last season after he was dismissed from Indiana in the spring of 2008.
Aihe, a 6-foot-9, 205-pound forward, played sparingly last season after transferring from Sante Fe Community College in Gainesville, Fla. He played 26 minutes in 13 games, scoring five points. The hardship allows him to stay in school and on scholarship.
On the dotted line
Brandon Jacobs, a 2009 running back signee, will sign a contract with the Boston Red Sox that includes a $750,000 bonus, according to a report in Baseball America. All that is pending is the physical.
The 6-foot, 237-pound Jacobs, who hails from Lilburn, Ga., was a 10th round pick in last June’s Major League Baseball draft. His bonus is the largest so far for a player taken after the eighth round.