Player Leaves Team As Tigers Return To Practice

The Tigers returned to the practice field one man short on Tuesday as a defensive lineman has decided to leave the program.

Auburn, Ala.–-The Auburn Tigers got back to practice Tuesday afternoon in preparation for Ball State without a reserve defensive lineman, who has left the team. Redshirt freshman Pat Sims, who didn't play in Auburn's win over Mississippi State Saturday, was absent from both Sunday's practice and again on Tuesday before telling the coaches he was leaving the program. Sims plans to stay in school and transfer at the end of the semester.

Currently fourth on the depth chart, Sims' departure leaves starter Wayne Dickens and back-ups Neil Brown and Sen'Derrick Marks on Auburn's defensive front along with another true freshman Andrew McCain. McCain moved from tight end to defensive end just days before Auburn's game against the Bulldogs.

Pat Sims is expected to transfer and continue playing football.

Working on all phases of the gameplan for Ball State as well as correcting mistakes made against Mississippi State, coach David Gibbs said the day went well for the team as they try to stay on the winning track this week. Despite having several players out on both sides of the ball the team went through a spirited two-hour practice in full pads that included a long special teams session working on kickoffs and coverage teams.

"We're still working hard," Gibbs said. "We had a good practice today, a physical practice today. We're making strides slowly but surely."

The injury bug is currently biting the Tigers as several starters missed Tuesday's practice with minor bumps and bruises. Starting middle linebacker Travis Williams sat out with a turf toe (sprained toe) and was replaced in the middle by junior Karibi Dede. Gibbs said that Dede should handle things fine if called upon Saturday.

"Karibi is smart enough to play all three spots," Gibbs said. "Even though he didn't start last year he played a whole bunch. He's solid as a rock. He can play any position on defense. He started at safety a couple of years ago. He'll be fine. He won't be as good as Travis, but he'll be salty. Who knows. Travis could come out there tomorrow and be full speed, you don't ever know, but Karibi's fine and Chris Evans played pretty good in the game the other day. These guys have done a good job of recruiting. These young guys are good athletes, they just need live reps which I hope we can get these next few weeks."

Offensive tackle Marcus McNeill missed the practice as well with a sprained knee. His replacement at left tackle was sophomore King Dunlap, who had a good day Saturday against Mississippi State. Dunlap is capable of playing both sides for the Tigers, but should stay on the left for the Ball State game. On the defensive line Josh Thompson missed the practice as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain.

Other injuries include running back Tre Smith, who missed the practice with a sprained knee and wide receiver Lee Guess. Guess has missed the first two games with a high ankle sprain, but is expected to be back for the South Carolina game at the latest. The absence of both means that true freshman Robert Dunn will likely see plenty of action in the next two games for the Tigers, both returning punts and in the wide receiver rotation.

After watching the film of the win over Mississippi State, Gibbs said that he was pleased with the improvement of the defense, but that things can get better. Still saying the defense made too many mistakes, Gibbs noted that the defense kept fighting with the game in hand and that was a good sign.

"We played better, but we still didn't play good enough," Gibbs said. "If we would have played a really good team that was hitting on all cylinders we would have had some problems. The kids played hard. They started fast like we wanted to. They played aggressive from the beginning of the game. I think they set the tempo for the game and I think Mississippi State had a hard time matching their intensity. Even though we made some mistakes throughout the course of the game, the intensity stayed high so we overcome a lot of the problems. They weren't as noticeable as they were against Georgia Tech, but we've still got a long ways to go."

King Dunlap worked at first team tackle with Marcus McNeill out with a sprained knee. McNeill is expected back to practice on Wednesday.

With Marks and other young players such as Octavious Balkcom, Chris Evans, Merrill Johnson, Courtney Harden and Jonathan Wilhite getting a lot of work against Mississippi State and expected to see extended action each of the next two weeks as well, Gibbs said he's anxious to see how they perform when they get back on the field.

"They did a good job," Gibbs said. "They made mistakes, but they were flying around and nobody froze up. The young guys in the secondary got better from the first game and the young linebackers stepped in there and played good. Also a couple of the young guys up front got in there and did some good things. Anytime you get more players in there it's good for the morale of the team and of the defense. It helps them practice harder next week knowing they're going to get a chance to play. It was impressive."

A move on the defensive side of the ball that could pay dividends for the Tigers down the road is moving Tristan Davis back to safety after a trial at running back. Although he showed that he could get the job done if called upon, the Tigers are looking for a solid number three at strong safety and Gibbs said Davis has all the tools to get right back in the hunt.

"Tristan came back yesterday," Gibbs said. "He was sharp and still understands and remembers most of the defense. We'll keep working with him and go from there."

The Tigers will practice Wednesday and Thursday before having a short walk-through on Friday. Saturday's kickoff for the Ball State game is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. The game is available on a Pay-Per-View basis and is available by calling your local cable provider, Dish Network or Direct TV provider.

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