Tigers Get Some Good News

Coach Gene Chizik talks about the challenge this week of facing a passing offense like Mississippi State and the return of several key defenders.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers got some good news on Tuesday as cornerback Carlos Rogers along with defensive end Jay Ratliff and fullback Brandon Johnson all returned to practice and should be ready for this weekend's matchup with the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said he's excited to have his guys back on defense and get closer to full strength on that side of the ball.

"Carlos is going to be fine," Chizik said. "He practiced a little bit at the end of last week and today he ran around. They shortened his cast a little bit. He should be full go by game time."

With the emergence of Kevin Hobbs at cornerback in addition to veteran Junior Rosegreen, who is capable of playing safety in addition to his duties at corner, Chizik said the Tigers have some options about what they're going to do this weekend in the secondary. One thing he does know is that Rogers will be in the starting lineup.

"We don't know what we'll do with Junior yet," Chizik said. "That will be more of a game time decision. Right now we know that Carlos will play so we have some flexibility to do whatever we really want to do with Junior, whatever we feel is the best thing for us."

If that happens to be playing cornerback, the safety position would remain much the same as it was last week against Arkansas with redshirt freshmen Will Herring and Karibi Dede getting the bulk of the action. That would leave Hobbs as a reserve to help if needed against a strong Bulldog passing attack.

"We would just work Hobbs into the rotation there at corner to keep those guys fresh," Chizik said. "In games like these you never know how many times they're going to throw the ball. We certainly didn't think Tennessee was going to throw the ball 47 times. You have to prepare to be able to rotate three corners in there, especially against a teams you know are very good throwing the football."

Coach Gene Chizik watches as freshman cornerback Montae Pitts works against wide receiver Jeris McIntyre.

With Doug Langenfeld and Bret Eddins both slowed by sprains, Langenfeld's an ankle and Eddins' a knee, the defensive end position is in need of some help and it comes just in time with Ratliff's return to practice. A vital part of the defense and likely Auburn's top run defender at the position, Ratliff should be ready to go against the Bulldogs said Chizik.

"We're hoping that Jay is going to be ready," Chizik said. "He practiced today for the first time live with us and moved around pretty well. He feels like his ankle is at a minimum 90 percent right now. We're looking to get some snaps out of him Saturday for sure."

Ratliff's return would be a huge lift for a defensive front that will need help getting to the quarterback again this week. With just 14 sacks on the season in six games the Tigers have been inconsistent in the pass rush out of the front four. Chizik noted that it's something the team is trying to improve on as they prepare for Kevin Fant and company.

"I don't want to have to feel like I have to blitz every time I want pressure," Chizik said. "We have to be able to do that. Starting today, we started early in the week trying to shore up some of our pass coverage. We're going to work it again a great deal tomorrow and again Thursday. I'm concerned, but it's not just about the pass rush. It's about the coverage, where people are supposed to be and how the whole thing inter-twines together. We have a long way to go on that."

Practicing for just over two hours in full pads, the Tigers worked on all phases of the kicking game in preparation for the Bulldogs. One of the league's best in the special teams department, Mississippi State will bring a sound kicking game in this weekend and the Tigers will be trying to match that with improved play. Chizik said he was proud of the effort and intensity the team had at Tuesday's practice.

"We had great focus and they understand," Chizik said. "We have great maturity and great leadership on our defense. They understand what's at stake. Their focus was great today and the weather sure helped. They went out there and practiced and practiced the way we expect them to."

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