Making A Fresh Start

It looked more like two-a-days than a regular Sunday practice for the Auburn Tigers as the coaches and players alike pushed themselves to the limit following Saturday night's 31-14 loss to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.

Auburn, Ala.-- With penalties, turnovers and defensive alignment problems galore, the obvious focus of Sunday's practice was finding ways to improve on offense and defense.

"I thought they had a little bit of a look in their eyes that they wanted to get back to business, get to work," coach Noel Mazzone said. "We had gone that two weeks with an open week, which we didn't know was an open week until Thursday. We geared up for LSU and then all of the sudden we started on Syracuse. I think the kids might have gotten a little complacent or whatever with that two weeks of practice and weren't as sharp Saturday night. I think today they came out with a purpose."

One player who showed his intestinal fortitude Saturday night for the Tigers was linebacker Dontarrious Thomas. Despite giving up 31 points to a team whose offense had yet to strike fear into any opponent, Thomas more than carried his weight on the field. Totaling a career-high 19 tackles, the most since Jimmy Brumbaugh recorded 19 against Arkansas in 1995, the cat-quick Thomas said the defense is looking to get back some of it's swagger in the coming weeks.

"It's real hurtful," he said of the play of the defense Saturday night. "You try to prove a point but when you give up that many points in the last six quarters it makes the critics seem like they are right and you always try to prove the critics wrong. It's hurtful but now we've really got something to strive for and to drive for. That's to go back out there and establish ourselves as a great defensive team."

Following a late game and a long flight back that saw the players not reach Auburn until nearly 4 a.m., it's not surprising that several Tiger players could be found in the training room on Sunday. Most notable of these is junior center Ben Nowland. Suffering a sprained knee early in the second quarter, Nowland will likely be out the remainder of the week and is questionable for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt. If Nowland is unable to go, his job will be in the capable hands of freshman Danny Lindsey.

Playing in the first true test of his young career, Lindsey replaced Nowland and did an outstanding job as rated by the coaches. Coach Tommy Tuberville said the freshman made every call correctly and competed as hard as any player on the Auburn team. While there is work still to be done, Lindsey said he is glad to have the experience under his belt.

"Hart (McGarry) and Mike (Pucillo) just told me to calm down and it wasn't any different than our defense at practice. That's what I did. I went out there and made my calls and tried to get relaxed out there. I just did my job and they kind of helped me out."

In addition to Nowland, several players were missing from Sunday's heated practice. Tailbacks Ronnie Brown and Casinious Moore both sat out the day with minor bumps and bruises as did wide receiver Tim Carter. On defense all hands looked to be on deck as they try to get some attitude back in their game after the performance they have shown in the last six quarters of play.

"Now we're just working on getting our technique back and getting our energy and enthusiasm back," Thomas noted. "We thought that was the most hurtful thing for us. They did a great job of making our defense look pretty weak, but we've just got to build our defense back up and go out and prove we're one of the stronger defenses out there."

On the warpath Sunday afternoon were defensive line coaches Don Dunn and Terry Price. Not pleased at all with the performance of their charges against the Orangemen, both worked their groups to the limit with special attention given to running to the football and getting quicker off the ball with the snap.

The Tigers have their normal Monday off before returning to the practice fields Tuesday afternoon to begin preparations for the Vanderbilt Commodores. The team will practice Wednesday and Thursday in Auburn as well before heading to Nashville early Friday. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and is available on Pay-Per-View only.

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