Wounded Tigers Getting Healthy

Auburn, Ala.--The news was good coming from the Auburn practice on Wednesday as reports of injuries filled the air once again. No, not additional injuries but news that a couple of key players could be ready to go this weekend against Mississippi State.

With the strange defensive alignments of Bulldog defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn on tap for this weekend, having a couple of offensive veterans on the field will be important. From the looks of things one is a definite to play and the other could make an appearance after giving the coaches a scare on Tuesday.

"It was a good hot practice today," Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I thought we got a lot out of it. Ben Nowland is back, which is good. He looks like he's close to full speed and that gives us an opportunity to get him in the game early, if not start him. We'll see how his knee does after tonight. Robert Johnson's ankle still has a little swelling in it (after injuring it during Tuesday's practice). We didn't practice him today. If we can get the swelling down he'll play, but he's just probable for the game. He says he's going to play so we'll have to wait and see."

Tuberville announced that there will be a new punt returner this week and the two names in contention are both experienced players. Both Roderick Hood and Marcel Willis have both had experience in fielding punts and either could get the call Saturday night in a key game as the coaching staff has decided to give Joe Walkins a break from returning kicks. Not a punishment but more a breather, the coaches decided to let Walkins step back from the pressure of returning in a big game until he gets more comfortable in the position of punt returner. Tuberville said Walkins will likely be back on the field for the Louisiana Tech game in two weeks unless Hood or Willis turn in outstanding performances the next two weeks.

With the team in good spirits and the concentration on the practice fields at a high level, the Tigers practiced for just over two hours with the bulk of the day spent working on proper alignments and recognition on both offense and defense. Quarterback Jason Campbell had a good day throwing the ball and tailback Ronnie Brown continues to improve towards a return to the lineup Saturday night. While it's unknown if he will start or not at this time, Tuberville said Brown would definitely see playing time along with Casinious Moore, Carnell Williams and Chris Butler in the Auburn backfield.

On defense Demarco McNeil returned to practice Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday's workout with a minor knee problem that continues to hamper him. While the injury isn't considered to be major, it's something that McNeil will likely have to deal with the rest of the season. Still missing from the defensive side of the ball is cornerback Horace Willis, who continues to be bothered by a hamstring strain. If he's unable to go full speed Saturday look for redshirt freshman Junior Rosegreen to earn extra work behind starter Travaris Robinson in an effort to keep the starters fresh for the end of the game.

Whip linebacker Karlos Dansby should benefit from a more liberal substitution pattern by the Auburn coaches this week.

"We ran into a situation Saturday where we played guys 60 and 70 plays," Tuberville said. "That's not like us on defense. What happened is that we got into a situation where we weren't real sure guys knew what to do and the game was so close, we were afraid we would make mistakes. We've got to get players in the game. We've got to get more defensive backs, safeties and linebackers. I don't worry about the defensive line, they've got a good rotation."

Something that should help both the defense and the offense Saturday night is the fact that this game will be played in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Away from home for almost a full calendar month, Tuberville said his team is glad to finally be playing in front of the friendly home fans.

"I think they are excited and we talked about it today when we came up at the end," Tuberville said. "We talked about the excitement, tickets sold, and the people really enthusiastic about coming and supporting this team. I just wanted them to understand that I think that's what we've been missing. When you're on the road you miss that a little. Last week we probably had more people than Vanderbilt but it's not like having 80,000 in the stands, Tiger Walk and going through your regular routine…I think they're real excited about playing at home. I hope the fans are excited about it because we're going to need that with a lot of orange."

The game is officially listed as a sellout with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m. Those unable to make the game in person can watch it nationwide ESPN2.

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