Scot Loeffler's new offense may shine in Saturday's "A-Day" game, defensive lineman Corey Lemonier may look the part of an All-SEC terror off the edge, an injury-hampered secondary may show signs of life under the reunited Brian VanGorder-Willie Martinez tag team ... but there's no way Auburn will get any better news out of its spring camp than it got Wednesday when Shon Coleman returned to practice.
One of the nation's highest-ranked offensive linemen in the class of 2010, the Mississippi product was expected to make an immediate impact on the Plains until being diagnosed with leukemia just weeks after signing with the Tigers. Chemotherapy and his recovery prevented him from enrolling at Auburn until 2011, and from spending any time on the football field either of the past two seasons.
But with his cancer in remission and doctors having cleared him to participate, Coleman took to the Auburn practice field for the first time Wednesday.
“We're going to take baby steps,” Gene Chizik said. “We're going to take orders from our medical staff. We're not going to predict anything right now — we're just going to take it day-by-day and get him acclimated. It's been two-plus years since he's put on a uniform. We're just thrilled to have him out there.”
That went for his teammates as well.
"I know he was excited about the response that he got," defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker said. "Coach Chiz made him stand up in front of the whole team. Coach Chiz didn't even have to acknowledge it. Once he stood up the whole team gave him a standing ovation."
That wasn't the response he got from offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, who reportedly "pulled no punches" while coaching Coleman through his drills. With contact still prohibited by NCAA guidelines and Coleman still practicing in shorts, a helmet and pads rather than full gear, it will take some time to get up to game speed.
But just having Coleman at practice was more than reason enough for the Tigers -- and anyone who cares about college football -- to celebrate.
“That really was amazing — just to see him stand up at the end of practice with his pads on,” linebacker Ashton Richardson said. “It lit something inside of me to see that. He went through so much with cancer and everything like that. It's encouragement. It gives everybody around a little more energy to go out there and realize that you can overcome.”
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