Tigers Have Dress Rehearsal For Saturday's Opener

Auburn showed off its new white jerseys during Wednesday's practice as the Tigers went through all phases of the game preparing for Saturday's season opener against Louisiana-Monroe. Comments from Tommy Tuberville and Jay Ratliff are featured.

Auburn, Ala.–-There has been talk of new road jerseys for the Auburn Tigers this season and Wednesday the defense broke them out in the annual preseason ritual in which the Tigers wear their jerseys to make sure the fit is right.

Coach Tommy Tuberville said he likes the new look and hopes it helps to give Auburn more name recognition around the country in televised games.

Unlike the old jerseys, which had the AU logo on the front neck, the new jersey has Auburn written in its place along with a blue collar. Tuberville said the feedback from the players has been positive and several former players, including both Quentin Riggins and Kurt Crain, were at Tuesday's practice and said they liked the new look on the field.

Quentin Groves sports the new look jersey during Wednesday's practice.

Auburn used Wednesday's practice as a test drive for the upcoming season, spending the first hour and a half on the practice fields before moving to the stadium for the final 30 minutes of the day. Working on important things such as substitutions and making sure the phones work from the sidelines to the press box, Tuberville said the day is important to get all the little things done as well before game day.

"We covered every phase of the kicking game and every phase of offense and defense," Tuberville said of Wednesday's practice. "We just walked through (at the stadium). We have a script that we've gone through for 10 years. Every special teams goes on the field. We have substitutions. We go over situations such as onside kick. We do a lot of substitutions with the offense and defense, both first and second team."

The injury situation for the Tigers was both good and bad on Wednesday as receiver Silas Daniels was back full speed in the practice after taking part in much of Tuesday's workout. Unfortunately for the Tigers, receiver James Swinton went down with a knee injury during a non-contact drill and has been taken for evaluation to East Alabama Medical Center.

Tuberville said that although Swinton was likely headed for a redshirt, it puts a premium on getting help from a couple of walk-ons that have been around the program in Jamoga Ramsey and Maurice Anderson.

"He looks like he's going to be out for this game, maybe more," Tuberville said of Swinton. "They've been here a while (Tuberville said of Ramsey and Anderson). It's not like it is their first year. Actually they were farther ahead than James, but you always want to keep as many guys as you can to pull from in case you have injuries."

The defensive front has been somewhat of a question mark this fall because of minor injuries throughout the preseason to key players. That has allowed several young players to get plenty of playing time, including freshman Pat Sims. Despite showing some signs that he could be a good player down the road, Tuberville said the coaches aren't sure what Sims' role is going to be this season.

"He's on the bubble," Tuberville said. "If guys don't go in this game then obviously they'll be redshirted. If they're not participating in the games coming up then that will be it because we won't be playing guys on the bubble much after that."

One of the players the Tigers are counting on heavily this season is senior defensive tackle Jay Ratliff. A former tight end and defensive end, Ratliff isn't the classic inside player at over six-foot-five, but makes up for it with an aggressive style and good technique. Ratliff said this preseason has been a good one for him and now he's ready to get the season going.

"This preseason has been a lot of hard work," Ratliff said. "So far everything has gone pretty good, but there is always stuff to work on and room to improve. I feel comfortable inside. I didn't think I would when I moved, but fortunately everything has gone well.

"The advantage I have coming in from end, as far as the technique and the moves, is my speed. They are pretty much the same though. The only difference is that you have less time to do the moves in when you're playing inside."

Missing from last season's defense are several key members up front, including both Demarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson in the middle. While replacing them is going to be tough, Ratliff said they're doing things a different way this season. Speed has replaced strength and power and the senior said it allows the defense to go from sideline to sideline.

"We can cover the field a whole lot more than at any time since I've been here," Ratliff said. "I'm not a heavy guy so I'll rely on speed. That's a big advantage for me."

Auburn opens the season this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. when it faces the Louisiana-Monroe Indians. While many eyes will be on the offense and how it produces for the first game, the most telling side of the ball may be on defense. If the unit can play up to Coach Gene Chizik's high standards in 2004, it could be a very good year for the Tigers.

"I feel that we've come a long way," Ratliff said. "We've still got a lot of work to do. There are a lot of things we've got to get better at. The best way to do that is to get better each week."

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