Healthier Tigers Preparing For Rebel Invasion

News, notes and quotes from the football Tigers are featured as Auburn prepares for Saturday's Southeastern Conference game vs. the Ole Miss Rebels.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn football Tigers returned to the practice field on Tuesday evening in a two-hour session in pads to work on the game plan for Saturday's SEC home game vs. Ole Miss.

Coach Gus Malzahn said it is good to have a healthier team to work with as his Tigers move deep into their second week of preparation for the Rebels, an opponent that brings a 3-1 overall mark and a 1-1 SEC record into Jordan-Hare Stadium.

With the exception of wide receiver Jaylon Denson, who is out for the rest of the year after suffering a knee injury vs. LSU, every player was cleared to practice on Tuesday, Malzahn said, noting that is the first time it has happened this season.

However, whether or not all of those players will be ready to play at full speed, or even play at all, at 6 p.m. CDT on Saturday night is a different question.

Defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker, who went into his senior season No. 1 on the depth chart, has yet to see action after having his knee scoped in August to repair a torn meniscus. Continuing to rehab to get closer to full speed, Whitaker is still a potential candidate to be redshirted this fall.

Another senior defensive lineman, end Craig Sanders, missed the LSU game with an ankle injury, but is expected to play against the Rebels. Sanders started the first three games this season. Prior to this season Sanders had only played on special teams and as a backup at end.

Chris Davis

*Cornerback Chris Davis started the first two games and was the team's top tackler going into game three, but has been sidelined since the second half of Arkansas State game with an ankle problem. Malzahn and the Tigers are hoping to have the talented senior back in game action this week.

*Sophomore cornerback Jonathan Jones was expected to see a significant amount of playing time this year, but has not been on the field yet due to suffering a cracked bone in his ankle. Jones has been moving very well in practice in recent workouts and this could be the week he is cleared for action.

Jonathan Jones]

*Junior Justin Garrett, who began preseason practice as the first team "star" rover, continues to be plagued by a painful foot injury. Garrett, who was moved to weakside linebacker prior to the LSU game, is expected to play vs. Ole Miss, but how much he plays and how effectively he can move is a major question.

*Starting weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy has not missed any games, but has not been full speed due to a knee problem. With the off-week behind him, the sophomore should be healthier than he has been this season.

*Senior defensive end Dee Ford, who missed the first two games with a knee injury, should also benefit from the off-week. Ford started against LSU, but admitted that physically he is still is not his old self yet.

*A defensive end who has yet to play this season, redshirt sophomore Keymiya Harrell, has been cleared to practice. However, Harrell is unlikely to see action this week. He underwent ACL surgery after being hurt the first week in spring training and is still working to get closer to full speed

Keymiya Harrell is a player the AU coaching staff was hoping could develop into a serious pass rushing threat this season prior to his injury.

*One of the bright spots for the defense this fall, "star" rover Robenson Therezie, is among the group of defenders who is working to get back to full speed for game five after suffering a "stinger" vs. LSU. Therezie leads the Tigers in tackles with 25 and interceptions with two.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson noted that the Tigers have been "razor thin" in the secondary this fall with the injuries combined with the loss of safety Demetruce McNeal being dismissed from the team. A pair of seniors who have stepped up and helped the situation are safety Ryan Smith and cornerback Ryan White.

White is fifth on the team in tackles with 18 stops and tied for second in pass breakups with five. Last year White played in just six games with no starts. He finished the season with six tackles and one pass deflection.

Smith, who has 17 tackles seeing significant action in a reserve role, started twice last year, but played in just four games. He finished the 2012 season with 27 tackles.

"We have been very proud of both of those guys, the way they have performed on the field and their leadership," Malzahn said of the senior defensive backs.

"They have bought into what our coaches have asked them to do with great attitudes, and really both of them have stepped up into leadership roles," the head coach added. "I think that's critical for not only those guys, but really for all of our seniors. We have tried to empower our seniors. As a group they have done a solid job."

Ryan White has had a productive start to the season on defense and has also run for a two-point conversion and passed for another in addition to holding for field goals and extra points.

Sophomore Josh Holsey, who made the move from cornerback to safety this spring, said that Smith and White have made a positive difference in the secondary so far this season.

Holsey has started all four games at safety this season after starting six times at cornerback last season as a true freshman. He also lines up as a nickel back in obvious passing situation.

Asked if he would prefer to move back to corner, the sophomore said, "It doesn't really matter to me. I could play linebacker as long as I am on the field. It really doesn't matter. If they need me to go back and play corner, that is what I will do. As long as I am playing and contributing and helping the team, that is what I would do."

Malzahn said on Tuesday that he is happy to have the versatile Holsey in the lineup. "He has been a big part of what we are doing," the coach said. "We are asking him to do a whole lot. He started at corner and now he is at safety, and played some nickel. He is just a football player.

"He is very valuable to what we are doing," Malzahn added. "He is a real intelligent kid, too, and he has really good football instincts."

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said the Tigers are getting ready to play an up-tempo game. "Ole Miss has really a lot of speed, and I'm talking about physical speed and then speed of operation. That's the word that comes to mind most when you think about them.

"They do an absolutely fantastic job of executing their offense," Johnson said. "They may execute their offense as good as anybody we've watched execute their offense. They're really good in their system. I know Coach Freeze knows what he needs to go to when you take something away--it doesn't take two or three plays, it's immediate.

"It's a huge challenge, huge challenge," Johnson added. "I think the big thing they have been able to do is get their athletes in space with the ball and a lot of times it's execution, other times it's checking plays, to get you in a disadvantage defense so we really have to be on our toes."

Rhett Lashlee, Auburn's offensive coordinator, said the Tigers will be tested by the Ole Miss defense. "They are really fast, really athletic. They are playing some young guys that are talented, but they have got a good mix of guys that have played.

"Trae Elston (Oxford High) stands out, the safety--he is from this state," Lashlee said. "He is a good football player, playing real good for them. D.T. Shackelford (Austin High, Decatur, Ala.) is a linebacker I know has been there for a while playing. They've got some of those young guys that are really talented.

"What stands out to me is they play extremely hard and they are fast and athletic," Lashlee added. "They have got some guys that can rush the passer, that can really run on the back-end in the secondary and at linebacker."

In other news and notes:

*Tickets are still available for Saturday's game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff time is set for 6 p.m. CDT and the contest will be televised on ESPNU.

*Malzahn is asking for fans to should up and be boisterous in support of the Tigers, particularly after the Ole Miss offense had trouble with communication playing on the road last Saturday with a loud crowd at Alabama's home stadium.

"Ole Miss is a very talented team offensively and defensively," Malzahn said. "Their program is on the rise. It is good that we are playing at home. During our last home game against Mississippi State, our home crowd was a huge factor. We are going to need that same energy and passion. Our guys are excited about the game and excited to be playing at home."

The last time the Rebels came to Auburn in 2011 a crowd of 85,357 turned out to see the Tigers win 41-23.

*Auburn leads the all-time series vs. Ole Miss 27-10. The Rebels won last year's contest 41-20 at Oxford, ending AU's three-game winning streak in the series. That victory ended a 16-game losing streak for the Rebels in SEC play. The game was considered a major win for Hugh Freeze, who was in his first season as head coach at Ole Miss. Freeze, who preceded Malzahn as head coach at Arkansas State, has posted a 10-7 record while directing the Rebels.

Hugh Freeze, who has a close relationship with Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, is in his second season as head coach at Ole Miss.

*Since 2000 the Tigers have won 11 times and lost just twice to the Rebels, who have an all-time record of 2-13 in games played at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

*With its 3-1 start Ole Miss is looking to improve its record to 4-1 for the first time since 2002. The Rebels lost to Auburn that year, 31-24 in Oxford, in a game that was played on November 2nd.

*With Chris Davis sidelined the past two games, junior receiver Quan Bray has been handling the punt return duties. Bray has eight returns for 49 yards, an average of 6.1 yards. Davis is averaging 10.5 yards on his two returns. Malzahn said on Tuesday it has not been determined who will return punts vs. Ole Miss.

*Ole Miss senior running back Jeff Scott is a major threat returning punts. He is averaging 23.2 yards on this four this year with one going 73 yards for a score.

*Auburn running back Tre Mason is a major threat on kickoff returns. Mason is averaging 31.7 yards on six returns with one going 100 yards for a touchdown.

Tre Mason is averaging 84.5 rushing yards per game at 5.2 yards per carry this season.

Malzahn, who worked with Mason as a freshman in 2011 while coordinating the offense, said that Mason has been a key player this year as a junior.

"As a freshman what stood out to me was he was a tough guy," the coach said. "He was willing to do anything. He had a great attitude. He still has a great attitude. He is a more veteran guy. He understands the big picture. He doesn't just know what he does, but he understands why we do stuff and the adjustments we make. That comes with experience."

*Satellite radio coverage of the game is available on Sirius 139 and XM channel 198.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories