Head coach Gene Chizik said considering the number of freshmen and sophomores who were forced to play early last year, he is thrilled about the physical improvements they have made in just a few months.
"When you have that many young guys that you play with, going from 18 to 19 or 19 to 20 years old, that's a period of time where you can really see some great gains," Chizik said. "There's no question in my mind that we've seen that."
One player, however, changed positions as well as his body.
Sophomore C.J. Uzomah worked with the wide receivers in 2011, but has since moved to tight end.
Chizik said it was a move that he envisioned for Uzomah since he signed with the 2011 class.
"If you go through the history of football and the test of time, there's been a lot of ex-high school quarterbacks that really become very good tight ends," Chizik said. "That was my vision for him all along when we recruited him."
Chizik added that Uzomah had one of the best offseasons of any players on this year's team.
"He's worked extremely hard," Chizik said. "He's gotten strong. Very dedicated in the weight room and getting in shape. What he's going to have to learn is the physicality of the game at that position, which I really feel that he'll be able to grasp that. It will take some time. It will be a process for him, no doubt about it. But he's got the size, the speed, he's a smart young man, and he's got great work ethic. There's no reason why he can't be a very good tight end in this league."
Uzomah said the kind of talent a tight end has to go up against in the Southeastern Conference is what helped motivate him to get stronger.
"Especially going against guys like Corey Lemonier, Dee Ford and Craig Sanders every day in practice, some of the best d-ends in the SEC and the nation," Uzomah said. "I knew that it was going to be a challenge and I'd have to hit the weight room and do extra work so I could prepare myself."
Uzomah is now listed at 6-4, 246 pounds, up from 6-3, 235 pounds last year.
Slated to be the starter at tight end is senior Philip Lutzenkirchen. However Lutzenkirchen is not anticipated to go through spring practice because of an offseason surgery.
Regardless, Uzomah can still learn from his veteran teammate.
"He really has helped me out with film and footwork and different alignments, different blocking techniques, because I don't know how to block anybody up front," Uzomah said. "He's definitely helped me out a lot in that aspect."
As Uzomah continues to work at his new position, he hopes to eventually become the type of backup who can provide relief without a dropoff.
"Lutz is a great guy, and once he comes back in of course he's going to be a huge playmaker for us," Uzomach said. "I'm just trying to do my best and hopefully propel myself to that point where I can help him out if he gets tired or just being in different packages with him."
Also out for spring because of offseason injuries or surgeries are junior defensive end Nosa Eguae (left shoulder), senior linebacker [/db]Jonathan Evans[/db], junior defensive tackle Kenneth Carter, senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell (knee) and senior safety Ikeem Means.
Chizik would not go into detail regarding any player's injury.
Sophomore fullback Ladarius Phillips was also not at Friday's practice. Chizik said it was for "personal reasons."
"If his status changes, then I'll let you know," Chizik said.
Offensive lineman Shon Coleman is not listed on the roster, although he is still a student at Auburn and worked out with the team in the weight room in the offseason.
Coleman was initially a part of the 2010 signing class, but was diagnosed with acute lymphoblstic leukemia that March. Fortunately, Coleman's health has returned, but he has not been medically cleared to play football.
"Until he is (cleared), then his status is going to be the same," Chizik said. "He was able to workout with us and he's really done well in that regard."
Another player absent from practice was defensive end Joel Bonomolo. Chizik confirmed that Bonomolo is no longer with the team.
"Joel has decided to move on with his life and graduate," Chizik said. "I feel confident that he will do that. That's a decision that we sat down and talked about a couple of months ago. We wish him well."
After being sidelined in 2010 with a shoulder injury, Bonomolo made brief appearances in seven games the following season, mostly on special teams.