Ted Roof, Auburn's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, gave Monday's practice a thumbs up as his 7-4 Tigers began preparations for 10-1 Alabama. "It was a little different...I think in a good way," Roof said of the two-hour plus practice in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads.
"It was good to get back out on the practice field and get a great start on the best rivalry in college football," said Roof, who coached the Tigers in the previous two Auburn-Alabama contests.
"I thought our kids had a good practice," the coordinator said. "There was a sense of urgency to get better. There was attention to detail. It is going to take everything we have got and we are ready to give that."
Sophomore defensive end Craig Sanders noted that the physical theme has been front and center this week for the Tigers. "Since Sunday that is all they have been preaching," he pointed out.
Commenting on practice, Sanders said, "It was good, really good. Everybody was focused in. Nobody was messing up on calls or anything like that. They were ready to go."
Alabama has been near the top of the SEC total offense statistics most of the season. Asked what has made that group successful, Roof said, "I think they have good balance and good skill throughout."
He said it will be "critical" on Saturday for Auburn's front four to play physical football to control the Tide's running attack, which features Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson and his backup, Eddie Lacy, who has been more productive than Richardson in terms of yards per carry.
"In games like this you have to control the line of scrimmage and we started preaching that for this week as soon as we got done with the game the other day," Roof said. "That is a big focal point, something we have got to get better at. That is our intention."
Roof, who serves as linebacker coach, noted that junior starting outside linebacker Jonathan Evans was back at practice after being held out of Saturday's Homecoming game in order to heal an injury from the Georgia game.
Also returning to practice was redshirt freshman linebacker Jawara White, who was also held out of the 35-16 victory over Samford after going out with an injury vs. Georgia.
True freshman Justin Garrett made his first college start filling in for Evans and Roof had praise for how he played. "For his first start he did well. He is going to be a really good player before he is done. He is a very conscientious kid. Football makes sense to him.
"He has just got to get bigger and stronger, but he will," Roof predicted. "He can run and he will hit you at full speed. I?think he has got a very, very bright future."
On Monday sophomore Steven Clark was named as one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, which is presented annually to college football's top punter. Clark, Ryan Allen of Louisiana Tech and Jackson Rice of Oregon were chosen from a group of 10 semi-finalists.
The winner will be announced on Dec. 8th during the Home Depot College Football Awards television show.
"I am blessed with the ability to kick a ball pretty decently so I am just trying to maximize my potential,"Clark said after Monday's practice, noting he was honored at the recognition.
Clark said that having a good deep snapper in senior Josh Harris and a strong punt coverage unit is one of the reasons he is being considered for the honor. The sophomore stated that there is no better deep snapper in college football.
Steven Clark is shown in game action for the Tigers.
Clark has 64 punts this season with an average of 40.4 yards per punt. Thirty of those punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.
The candidates are evaluated on their overall statistics and contribution to the team with emphasis on punts inside the 20 and punts not returned. With 33 fair catches and two touchbacks, only eight of Clark's punts have even been returned for a total of just 41 yards. Of the eight returns, four have gone for no gain or negative yardage. Clark has twice been named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week this season.
In other news and notes:
*Saturday's 2:30 p.m. game will be nationally televised on CBS with Verne Lundquist doing play-by-play, Gary Danielson the analyst and Tracy Wolfson the sideline reporter. The Auburn Radio Network's coverage with Rod Bramblett, Stan White, Quentin Riggins and Paul Ellen can be heard on Sirius Channel 91 and XM Channel 91.
*Freshman safety Erique Florence, who was recruited heavily by both the Tigers and Tide, said that he and other members of the secondary want to perform well for their injured teammate, cornerback T'Sharvan Bell, who is out for the rest of the season after having knee surgery last week. "We are taking every play like it is our last so we're going to prepare, and we're going to see what we've got on Saturday."
*With Bell out, redshirt freshman Jonathan Mincy started at cornerback. Roof said the defensive back did some good things vs. Samford.
*Saturday's game will be the 11th time the Tigers and Tide have met on Auburn's campus. Auburn has a 7-3 record in those contests. Counting the games in Tuscaloosa, Auburn's overall record at campus sites vs. the Tide 14-4.
*The Tigers are scheduled to practice again on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.