After going through all facets of the game plan in offensive and defensive groups, the team ventured indoors for the last 30 minutes of practice to get a feel for the artificial turf that awaits them in Syracuse's Carrier Dome.
Getting missing players back healthy has been the concern of the coaching staff as they head into a stretch of back-to-back road games at Syracuse and Vanderbilt. Despite a touch of the flu that is running through the team right now, the injury situation appears to be getting better as Deandre Green, Marcel Willis, Carnell Williams, Jeris McIntyre and Rashaud Walker all looked to be running fine as they try to get near 100 percent for the Syracuse game.
Defensively, the Tigers worked heavily on defending the option beginning with the basics of assignment football. Working groups against the option and passing game simultaneously, the defensive coaches stressed fundamentals from the players and that's what they got as the scout team offense put the defense through the paces in a very spirited defensive period. With redshirted wide receiver Larry Summers the acting option quarterback, defensive players were given a very speedy imitation of the Syracuse offense on Sunday as they prepare to face the first true option team they'll see this season.
Offensively, the challenge is a big one for Auburn. Facing one of the better defenses in the country in the Orangemen, the Tigers worked on running a clean offensive session and it appeared to be just that way. With starting quarterback Jason Campbell and backups Daniel Cobb and Jeff Klein all having good days, the passing game looked better than it has all season. The addition of Willis into the rotation and a healthy McIntyre can take some of the credit for that as their experience in this offense brings a calmness to all aspects of the offense.
To make the passing game work the Tigers must figure out a way to block Syracuse star defensive end Dwight Freeney. Already credited with six sacks and nine tackles for losses in three games, the 250-pound speed rusher will present a challenge for the Auburn offensive line unlike any they will face the remainder of the season. Auburn offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said the offense will have to account for him at all times to be successful Saturday night.
"That guy is good," Mazzone said. "He's one of the better defensive ends that I've coached against or played against. He's very fast, quick off the ball. He's not real big but I think he's going to be a great challenge for Kendall (Simmons). I think Kendall is excited about the chance to line up against him so I think that's going to be a battle inside the war right there."
It won't be only Simmons who gets a chance at Freeney on Saturday. Using him similarly to how the New York Giants used Lawrence Taylor in his prime, Syracuse will play him at several different positions during the course of a game, but he's not the only weapon Mazzone has noticed. He said there are several players that they're concerned about as offensive coaches.
"They'll move him around and put him in different spots but most of the time he's the right end for them," he said. "They've got a good defense. Last year they were ranked 18th in the nation in total defense and they brought back six or seven kids on this year's team. They've got two real good safeties that are great tacklers. The corners have got experience…the linebackers are good players that run well. I think it's good. We need to play some good defenses."
The Tigers will continue to work on Syracuse on Tuesday after taking their normal off day on Monday. They will practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before leaving for Syracuse Friday morning via a chartered flight. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 6:45 Central time and can be seen nationally on ESPN.