Practicing for nearly two hours in shorts and shoulder pads, the Tigers went through all phases of the game plan for the Vols. Coach Tommy Tuberville said he's been pleased with how relaxed his team has been in practice this week and he's confident this team is ready to play well Saturday night.
"They're having fun," Tuberville said. "This is a different group, every group is. This one enjoys playing. They enjoy working. We've rewarded them the last few weeks by cutting back in practice because of how hard they work in practice. You don't need so many reps if you do things right early. It's been working out pretty good that way.
"The last couple of days have been real good practices," Tuberville added. "We cut them back a little bit to try to get our legs fresh. We've worked a lot on every phase, special teams included. The guys are mentally into this week's practice obviously knowing the importance and magnitude of this game. I expect us to play well. We've got a big challenge in front of us and our players know that. The senior leadership has been good. Everybody has been focused."
Doug Langenfeld is expected to start this week for the Tigers.
A driven team on the field, Auburn went through the paces in Wednesday's practice beginning with a spirited special teams session that lasted just under 30 minutes. Both Carnell Williams and Tre Smith caught punts during the drills and Silas Daniels is also a player that could see duty as a returner for the Tigers. Look for Williams and Devin Aromashodu to be back on kickoffs this week for the Tigers.
One of Auburn's promising freshman suffered an injury during Tuesday's practice and is out for this weekend's game. Running back Brad Lester hurt his foot and will not travel this week. Tuberville said the coaches are going to wait and see what Dr. James Andrews says about his injury before deciding on his role the rest of the season. Lester had shown promise on kickoff returns this season.
Senior defensive end Doug Langenfeld is expected to get his second start at weak side end this Saturday after working with the first team during Wednesday's practice. Bothered by a deep thigh bruise and a sore ankle for much of the season to this point, Tuberville said Langenfeld is coming on strong and his experience should help against a physical team like Tennessee.
"It will be the same as we started him last week," Tuberville said. "He gives you a little bit more experience, but the other guys (Stanley McClover, Marquies Gunn) will play just as much as him. We roll them, we're just trying to find the right combination to play against, for instance, a running team. This team is going to run it. Doug has been in the game more and plays better technique. He's pushed through injuries. He's stayed beat up, but he always pushes through it."
True freshman defensive tackle Pat Sims returned to the practice field on Wednesday and joined his teammates as they prepare to face the Tennessee Volunteers. Tuberville said it was good to see Sims back on the Auburn campus after a tough two weeks for the 19 year old. He was scheduled to be back Monday, but Hurricane Jeane forced a postponement in the funeral services.
An important part of Saturday's game will be special teams as both Auburn and Tennessee are strong in the punting department with Kody Bliss averaging 41.2 yards per kick this season Vol All-American candidate has been remarkable to this point, averaging 44 yards per attempt and he has downed six of his 11 punts inside the 20-yard line. Tuberville said that there's little doubt an improved special teams is going to be a key this weekend.
"Our kicking game is a lot better this year than it was last year," Tuberville said. "We're more consistent. Our field goal guys have improved. We would like to be more consistent, but we haven't had a lot of opportunities. The punter has been excellent and the coverage teams have been good. That always plays a big factor on the road, field position. We've worked extra hard this year, including the last two weeks."
Kickoff for Saturday evening's game is scheduled for 6:45 central time and can be seen nationally on ESPN. All four Tennessee games have been played at home and at night this season.