Kerryon Johnson (above) is rehabbing an ankle sprain.
Auburn, Ala.--With no football game to prepare for this week the Auburn Tigers focused on themselves in Tuesday evening’s bye week practice.
The Tigers will return to action a week from Saturday when the Arkansas Razorbacks visit Jordan-Hare Stadium for a 5 p.m. kickoff.
Both of Auburn’s coordinators noted they are seeing progress from their players at the halfway point of the regular season schedule.
“Obviously, the next game is a long way away,” said Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele. “As coaches we have started the process of Arkansas, but we did not do that with our players yet.
“We are totally focused on trying to improve each and every individual in terms of physicality, in terms of understanding the game technique so we went out today and they were all there,”Steele said. “Everybody was there. Some guys were a little limited in what they could do, but not much.
“We got some things done in terms of physicality and the run fits and those things, which were much needed,” the coach noted.
“It came at a perfect time in that we needed it, and the next team that we play is obviously very effective at running the football, and throwing it now. Their quarterback (Austin Allen) throws it pretty well and is pretty accurate. That’s kind of where we are at.”
Commenting on the focus for the offense in Tuesday’s practice, Rhett Lashlee said, “We were kind of working on us a lot--fundamentals--just trying to get better, especially our second group, the guys that don't always get a lot of reps in practice.
“A lot of our redshirt guys, we let them play a little bit,” the offensive coordinator said. “Our older guys still got some work in, but it was a fundamental day to focus on Auburn.”
The Tigers are currently riding a three-game winning streak after Saturday’s 38-14 victory at Mississippi State.
“First and foremost is to get healthy and rested,” Lashlee said of the offense’s goal for the week.
“We have had a long, hard six weeks. We have played as good a schedule as anybody, probably, and we have got just about as good a backend as anybody. We have got to get healthy first.
“This week is good for our guys to just kind of refresh their minds a little bit,” Lashlee said. “We are still doing ball, still working, but you don’t have that impending game coming on Saturday that everybody is grinding towards.”
Lashlee said it is time to “first and foremost” get “refreshed” this week. He added. “Don't get me wrong, we have got to get to work on Arkansas because that is going to be a big one.”
The offensive coordinator said the Tigers worked on fundamentals and execution in Tuesday evening’s practice in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts. “I think it's gotten better and better each week,”?he said. “A lot of times that's more important than the plays and all that, is how well we execute it. And then, the second group, the depth.
“You get into our league, we have already got some guys banged and bruised, you get to those last six games and you are going to have games where maybe a guy is out for the year or may be out at the end of the first quarter like K.J. (Kerryon Johnson) was Saturday and the next guy has to be up.
“We are trying to get the guys that have played a little bit just to get them even more ready where we feel more comfortable either if they have to go in or even playing those guys more so certain guys don't have to play too many minutes,” Lashlee said. “That’s probably the two things we are working on the most.”
Johnson suffered an ankle sprain at Mississippi State and got just three carries while fellow sophomore running back Kamryn Pettway ran the football 39 times. Johnson is rehabbing his injury and it is not known when he will be cleared to return to action. Lashlee said he hopes it is as soon as possible.
“It’s very important because he is one of our best players,” the coach said. “We are very optimistic--he’s doing well. We’ll just kind of take it day by day right now. He’s progressing better than our trainers maybe thought after Saturday. It’s nothing major and serious, but we just hope he’ll continue to improve and get better.
“He is a dynamic guy,” Lashlee said of Johnson, Auburn’s leading rusher who has scored six touchdowns. “He is our guy that does a lot of things from all-purpose standpoint. I think it shows next man up. Bubba (Pettway) came in and played very well, Kam Martin got in there and did some good things--even Stanton Truitt. Chandler Cox is a guy who can run it if needed.”
Auburn’s leading receiver, Tony Stevens, noted his team’s road victory at Mississippi State was a big plus for the offense. “It takes our confidence to a whole other level,” he said. “That was a pretty good defense we played. To come on the road and put up 38 points was pretty impressive.”
Tony Stevens has had more to smile about this season as a regular in the lineup.
Stevens has 24 catches for 409 yards and three of Auburn’s seven touchdown receptions. He is averaging 17.0 yards per catch.
The senior said that he likes the way Sean White is handling the quarterback assignment. White has completed 92-132 passes for 1,187 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. The redshirt sophomore has completed 69.7 percent of his throws this season.
“Sean White is gaining confidence each and every day,” Stevens said.
Lashlee said he saw good things from White in Saturday’s win vs. the Bulldogs. “He was very steady again. I thought he did some really good things. Probably overall he graded out the best. We didn't have the ball much and he didn’t do a whole lot in the second half, but in the first half he played very sharp. He was very efficient.
“We would like to hit the double-move for the touchdown and we had one ball that he overthrew, but other than that I thought he played very well,” Lashlee added.
In other news and notes:
*Gus Malzahn said that he feels comfortable with Lashlee calling the plays, something the Tigers have done for the past three games, all Auburn victories.
“It just gives me a better view of the overall picture, the overall scheme of what they are trying to do,” Malzahn said. “Those guys have done a very good job. We have been more balanced since we made the switch and I think it is a very good thing moving forward.”
Rhett Lashlee coaches AU's quarterbacks and coordinates the offense.
*Kerryon Johnson leads the Tigers in rushing with 538 yards on 105 carries with Pettway next with 505 carries for 91 yards. Auburn, Texas A&M and Western Michigan are the only major college teams with two 500-yard rushers this season.
*While Auburn (4-2 overall, 2-1 SEC) has the week off, its next opponent, Arkansas, faces a Saturday home game vs. the Ole Miss Rebels. That contest will kick off at 6 p.m. on Saturday. A week later the Razorbacks will be at Jordan-Hare Stadium for a 5 p.m. kickoff for a game that will be televised on ESPN.
Arkansas is 4-2 overall, but 0-2 in the SEC. Ole Miss, the team the Tigers will play on the road after playing host to Arkansas, is 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the league.