On Saturday, Sept. 3rd at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers will put their nation's longest 15-game winning streak on the line as they take on the Utah State Aggies.
"I thought we a had a good practice this morning," Coach Gene Chizik said. "We went out there and really tried to focus and lock in on detailed things. We worked on a lot of the game plan for Utah State. It was a very good and productive morning."
Chizik said the quick turnaround between the Thursday and Friday practices was designed to give the players a chance to return home and take a break after their Friday classes before returning for a practice on Sunday. The Tigers will play games for nine consecutive weeks before their first off-week prior to playing the Georgia Bulldogs. "It is an opportunity for them to go home, see some high school games, see their family," Chizik said.
Commenting on how his team is doing a week out from the opener, Chizik said, "I feel like we have made a lot of progress, but we have got so many young guys you don't know what you are going to get until you get to game day," he said.
"I feel good about the progress the young guys have made," he said. "We are going to have the challenges of the gameday atmosphere, the gameday responses and reactions to a lot of our players and how they handle that, but in terms of our progress I feel good with a week left we are about where we thought we would be."
Chizik said the coaches will be working over the weekend to "solidify" who will be on the depth chart as the Tigers take on Utah State out of the Western Athletic Conference, a team that goes through its final two-a-days practice sessions on Friday. The Aggies have a scrimmage scheduled for Saturday.
Prior to the start of practice Chizik said to expect plenty of freshmen in action this season and that has not changed. Although many of the players who started on special teams are back, Chizik said that coaches are working a lot of freshmen on those units. "That is the plan right now," Chizik said when asked if a lot of freshmen will see action on the kicking and punting teams. "We definitely have them as part of the mix."
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said in a normal year the defense will have a playing rotation that features 18 to 20 players. Roof said this season look for significantly more players to see action on defense. "Number one, we are in a position where that has got to be the way we handle it," Chizik said.
"There is no question there is not enough separation between a lot of positions where you say this guy has got to play 60 plays and the next guy plays 10. There is a lot of parity in there between a lot of the guys so that, combined with the fact that we just don't have a lot of numbers, puts us in a position where we have got to play as many players that are ready to assume a role and help us as we can."
A young player who made a position move this season, redshirt freshman LaDarius Owens, is pushing for a spot in the playing rotation at defensive end after practicing at linebacker last year.
Ladarius Owens is the nephew of former Tiger star James "The Big O" Owens.
"The transition has been good because I am glad to be back in my comfort zone, but it has not been easy," he said. He noted there is a lot more technique involved in playing the position at the college level than he used when he mostly lined up as a defensive end as a high school All-American at Jess Lanier High in Bessemer.
Owens, who is 6-2, 245 pounds, is competing for playing time at end behind sophomore Corey Lemonier and junior Dee Ford, who are battling for first string status. Owens noted that he also is in a pass rush package, something he was good at doing in high school where he made 20 1/2 quarterback sacks as a senior.
Defensive line coach Mike Pelton said the plan is to roll in plenty of subs on the front four so that gives guys down the depth chart like Owens encouragement that they will see significant playing time.
With three of the four starters being replaced on the front four, how does Owens see the group doing in practice? "I think we are coming along real well," he said. "We have a lot of young guys and I am included with them because I am new to it just like the freshman.
"We have got good leadership, guys who are kind of used to it as far as the drills go and giving us tips on what we are going to see in a game and different types of blocks and stuff," he said. "I think we are coming on really good."
Owens said although he has a higher comfort level at end than linebacker, it is still a challenge to play the position in college. "It is either kill or be killed," he said. "That is the mentality I go in with. If you don't want to get beat up, you better fight and be quick. My advantage is getting off the ball quicker than them and I am faster than them so you use that to your advantage. You don't want to get in a tussle with them."
In other news and notes:
*Chizik named four true freshmen who have made significant progress in recent practices who fans can expect to see in action this season. The group includes cornerbacks Robensen Therezie and Jermaine Whitehead along with wide receiver Quan Bray and defensive tackle Devaunte Sigler.
Jermaine Whitehead was a star at Elzy High School in Mississippi.
"We are going to try to give everybody a role who can help us win," Chizik said.
*Although season tickets are sold out, tickets are available for the Utah State game and AU has a mini-season ticket package still available.
*Auburn's opener will be televised on ESPN2 with kickoff set for 11 a.m. on Sept. 3rd. The Tigers and Utah State have never played each other in football.