Tigers Nearing The End Of Busy Practice Week

Auburn is beginning to put the finishing touches on the game plan for Saturday's SEC showdown with Mississippi State. Comments from a key player and the head coach are featured.

Auburn, Ala.–-Following two tough days on Monday and Tuesday with a lot of contact, Coach Tommy Tuberville said the Auburn Tigers began to back off the hitting on Wednesday with a two-hour practice in shorts and shoulder pads.

With several of the players bothered by cold and flu symptoms, Tuberville noted it was good to get some warm weather again to make sure the team is ready for Saturday's game.

"It was a pretty good day considering half the team has either got a cold or virus," Tuberville said. "That's been kind of going around the last couple of weeks. We went through every phase of our game plan. We worked on concentrating--getting ready for a noisy stadium because we haven't been on the road yet. Communication in a new offense is something you're always concerned with. I don't think it will be too much of a problem because of the way we do things, but we're going to need more concentration on it.

"This was the first decently hot day we've had this week," Tuberville added. "It has been nice. Too nice knowing that at 11:30 Saturday morning it's going to be warm--85 degrees is hot after it's been 75 for the last week."

Running back Jerald Watson is one of the young Tigers ready to see what life is like on the road. He looks to field a punt on Wednesday.

Auburn's injury situation appears to be getting better with running back Tre Smith back at practice and going full speed. Tuberville said the junior will play this week at running back and could also see some action on special teams.

Backup sophomore guard Tim Duckworth sat out of the practice with a bruised knee, but should be fine for the game. Fellow sophomore guard Ben Grubbs practiced again despite a sprained ankle, but will start on Saturday.

"It was a good practice," Tuberville added. "The guys flew around. It has been a long week having three straight practices with Monday being Labor Day. It wasn't a normal week. Tomorrow we'll slow down more. We didn't stay out quite as long today. Tomorrow we'll just polish up and get ready to go."

The coaches have some tough decisions to make this week with only 70 players able to make the trip to Starkville because of SEC rules. Tuberville said that the decision hasn't been made yet on which players will travel and which will be left behind, but freshmen like Jerald Watson, Brad Lester, Tony Bell and Leon Hart are guys whowill be on the sidelines come this Saturday.

"There are some guys I would like to take that played in this last game, but obviously the numbers won't allow you to do that," Tuberville said. "It's really a strain on your special teams. That's the reason I wish we would reconsider upping this probably five guys."

Jay Ratliff

This week has been about being physical for the Tigers, with tough practices in full pads on both Monday and Tuesday. Senior tackle Jay Ratliff said while the practices have been good for a lot of the guys, the main thing that has to be right in order for a player to be physical is his mind.

"I think it's something mental," Ratliff said. "It's something that player has to do himself. I don't think there's anything you can work on at practice, it's something that has to be in the player. When I go on the field, especially for game time, I'm always in a bad mood. It's like all the stress of the week I just take it out on my opponent."

Several young players will make their first-ever road trip this weekend when Auburn heads to Starkville to face the Mississippi State Bulldogs. With many of them either starting or in key reserve roles, seniors like Ratliff, Bret Eddins, Junior Rosegreen and Carlos Rogers have taken it upon themselves to explain how difficult it is to play on the road.

"I think it's important for us to get that across to them, but from talking with some of them I think they already know," Ratliff said. "I think they're going to step up and do well."

Kickoff for Saturday's SEC opener is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and can be seen live on Jefferson Pilot Sports throughout the Southeast.

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