Auburn, Ala.–-When the Auburn Tigers take the field on offense against Ball State there is a good chance you'll see a new starting right guard for the Tigers.
With starter Tim Duckworth ailing because of an ankle sprain, junior Jonathan Palmer is expected to get the nod, Coach Tommy Tuberville noted following Thursday's practice.
"They'll be alternating this week," Tuberville said. "J.P. will probably start the game. We chart everything we do and we haven't been as consistent over there as we would like. We're going to put J.P. in there and see what he can do. It could be an all-new offensive line."
Jonathan Palmer has also worked at center for the Tigers.
Other than Duckworth, Auburn's injury situation is getting better the closer kickoff gets as linebacker Travis Williams, offensive tackle Marcus McNeill and running back Tre Smith all look like they'll be ready to play if needed Saturday after missing practice time this week and could start the game.
Both defensive end Stanley McClover and defensive tackle Josh Thompson are questionable with ankle injuries although they practiced on Thursday. Tuberville said all will be evaluated on Saturday, but he expects to play a number of players on both sides of the ball with the temperatures supposed to be in the 90s at kickoff.
"Injury-wise everyone just about practiced today and could play," Tuberville said. "We'll just have to see how the game goes. If they had not practiced up 'til Wednesday the people that were in their place will start anyway. We've got pretty good depth so it's time to start using it and see what we've got.
One question still remains from this week's practice and that is who is going to be kicking off for the Tigers against Ball State? After struggling with the job each of the last two games, both Zach Kutch and Kody Bliss have worked on improving this week along with walk-on redshirt freshman Matt Clark. Tuberville said that is just one of the things the Tigers worked on during Thursday's practice.
"Today we worked on a shorter practice because of the heat," Tuberville said. "It has been awfully hot all week. We see that our guys are getting pretty tired so we stayed out there for an hour and 10 minutes. It was a pretty short practice for a Thursday, but it's more important that we get them ready to play physically and mentally."
Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite could get a chance at more playing time this week as the Tigers look to increase the depth in the secondary against a pass-oriented Ball State team.
This weekend is another chance for the Auburn secondary to get some work against a potent passing attack before getting back into SEC play in two weeks against South Carolina. For senior cornerback David Irons that's a good thing because as he sees it he's just now getting into the groove on defense after struggling to get through the opener against Georgia Tech. Despite being a little sore after bruising his tailbone earlier in the week breaking up a pass, Irons said he's ready to get going against the Cardinals.
"My confidence is a lot better now," Irons said. "Just being on the field and the atmosphere of the game, I don't even look at the fans any more. At first I was like, my eyes were so big like I seen a ghost the first game. Now I'm calm and on the field just playing with my teammates, getting the plays down, and just running and playing the game of football that I love."
A confident football player, Irons is never shy about his belief in his own abilities and this weekend's game against Ball State will be a test to keep the high-strung senior under control. While from the outside this game appears to be a lopsided match-up, Irons said that the Tigers are treating it like any other game because they're all important if Auburn hopes to reach its goal in 2005.
"You mentally approach it by thinking they're undefeated," Irons said. "They're out for a goal to win their conference and we're out for a goal to win our conference. You don't take anybody for granted. You have to take an approach like they're undefeated and we're undefeated. They're looking to get to Pasadena just like us. You can't slip or these are the kind of teams that will upset you."
Kickoff for Saturday's game against Ball State is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and can be seen on pay-per-view only. Call your local cable company for ordering information. Small dish subscribers can view the game on channel 783 on DirecTV or 456 on Dish Network. Check with your dish provider for ordering information.
Thursday it was announced that Auburn would play Big East Conference member West Virginia in a two-game home and home series beginning in 2008 at Auburn. That game will be played on Sept. 6 and will be Auburn's second game of the season. The next year on Sept. 5 the Tigers will travel to West Virginia to face the Mountaneers what is expected to be the season opener for both teams. Tuberville said he's excited about the opportunity for the series and the attraction it presents for the fans.
"I don't know a lot about West Virginia," Tuberville said. "I know Rich (WVU coach Rich Rodriguez) has done a good job. I am on some committees with him and he's a good guy. Don Nehlen was there for a long time. They've got a lot of tradition. I coached up there when I was at Miami. It's about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, that's where you go into when you go to Morgantown. It will be a good two-game series.
"I think it's good that we're playing a Big East team," he added. "We're playing a Pac 10 team next year and then a Big East team. We've still got a little work to do on our schedule for 2007. We've still got an opening or two on that one. We're still working on that."
The 2007 season is one in which every team in the country has an extra date and a 12th game, noted Tuberville. He said that because everybody has an opening and Auburn is taking its time working on that schedule.