Having a healthier Walker back on the field means several things to the Auburn defense and especially the secondary, and his defensive coordinator and position coach explains why. "One, he knows what is going on back there," Lovett says. "He helps get us lined up and helps make the checks. By guys knowing where to line up and getting the checks, it settles them down in there and they are able to play. Obviously, I'm pretty happy about getting him back."
Rashaud Walker is full-speed again and ready for Syracuse.
Walker saw limited action at rover in the Tigers' 27-21 victory over Ole Miss, but it was clear that the ankle he sprained the week prior to the season-opener against Ball State had not completely healed. Another sign that Walker is healthy again is the move of Roderick Hood back to the cornerback spot he was set to start at before Walker was sidelined with the injury. Lovett says the coaches will continue to work Hood at rover on a limited basis to keep him in tune with what is going on at that position.
"We're keeping his nose in there a little bit," Lovett says of Hood. "But we're leaning more towards getting him back out to corner because Rashaud seems to be full speed. There are always more adjustments inside, so we'll just keep his nose fresh in there. But our thoughts are to play him outside this week."
Hood will get somewhat of a break this week as he readjusts to the cornerback position against a Syracuse team which is known more for its running attack than its passing prowess. "It feels good," Hood says of his return to cornerback. "Rashaud is back out there showing a lot of leadership and looking good out there. I feel we are gelling a little more. I feel the continuity getting there. With him back it adds a lot more depth and I feel like we're going to be a better defense."
Walker agrees that his return has given a boost in the depth department. That is something the Tigers will count on this Saturday playing in The Carrier Dome which is notorious for being one of the more humid places to play in the country. "We have pretty good depth," Walker says. "That is going to be a big advantage that we will have when somebody gets tired or just needs a breather. We have some players who can come in and bring some relief like Carlos Rogers and Karlos Dansby. They can come in and give somebody relief and just give us a lot of fresh bodies in the game."
The secondary can't relax expecting the Orangemen to run all the time. Hood says it will be a big adjustment concentrating on pass defense rather than worrying about first stopping the run, something he was accustomed to doing at rover. Syracuse has some big-play threats and Lovett has taken notice of three wide receivers. Maurice Jackson, who wears No. 1, has six catches for 82 yards and Lovett says he is "fast as the dickens." The coach adds, "We saw him last year catch two bombs against Virginia Tech. He just outran the guys and went up and caught it."
Hood's speed will definitely help on the outside for the Tigers, but Lovett expects to play at least four cornerbacks in this game. "Carlos Rogers will play," Lovett says. "Horace Willis will definitely play. We're going to have to play all four of those guys Saturday because that place in there is real close and you get winded and get gassed because it's humid in there. We need to rotate the guys to keep them fresh."
The odd man out of the secondary with the return of Hood is true freshman Rogers. The six-foot-one, 167-pounder played well in his first two starts, but did struggle late against Ole Miss. Lovett says he has not lost any confidence in Rogers. "The kid has played pretty well," Lovett says. "He gave up the big play the other day where he missed a tackle (on an Ole Miss touchdown reception). That's just fundamentals and techniques and being a freshman. Other than that he has played pretty solid. He needs to play some situations a little better, but he has the ability to go out there and run with those guys and play with those guys. We have all the confidence in the world in him. He's going to play Saturday whether Roderick is out there or not because Roderick is going to need some rest. Plus, I'm going to move Roderick inside to get some plays in there. We'll just have to see how that goes."
Carlos Rogers will see action against Syracuse.
The Auburn-Syracuse game will be nationally-televised by ESPN with kickoff set for 6:50 p.m. A special pre-game tribute to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania will start at 6:30 p.m. Each seat in The Carrier Dome will have an American flag placed in it for fans to use during the ceremonies.