Football Tigers On The Mend

Auburn got several key players back on both sides of the ball for Tuesday's practice as they prepare for a homecoming contest against Western Kentucky.

Auburn, Ala.–-Following a day off on Monday, the Auburn Tigers got back on the practice field on a hot Tuesday afternoon as they prepare to face the nation's number one team in Division I-AA Western Kentucky. Defensively there is some good news for coordinator David Gibbs as linebacker Travis Williams and noseguard Tommy Jackson both returned to practice and should be ready to go on Saturday afternoon.

"You knew Travis would be back," Gibbs said. "It was just a matter of time. He probably could have played Saturday if it would have been a bust for us. We were fortunate enough to let him heal up a little bit. He looked fast and he looked fresh out there. It will be good to get one of our leaders out there. T.J., he's always acting like he's hurt. That's nothing new," Gibbs joked.

Offensively the Tigers got offensive linemen Marcus McNeill and Tim Duckworth back full speed after both sat out the Ball State game. Tight end Tommy Trott, who sprained his neck against the Cardinals, didn't practice on Tuesday but expects to return for Wednesday afternoon's practice.

Noseguard Tommy Jackson was back practicing on Tuesday after spraining a knee against Ball State.

The Tigers made one position change during Tuesday's two hour practice in full pads, moving defensive tackle Andrew McCain to defensive end. A 6-6, 259-pounder, the tight end signee had moved to defense just over two weeks ago to help with the depth at tackle, but was moved to the strong side end position for the practice. That is the position he played in high school and he should be a player to give the Tigers some insurance against power running teams late in the season.

Facing a team that is different from any the Tigers will see this season on defense, Western Kentucky brings the option game to Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. With the ability to throw the ball as well, averaging 180 yards per game through the air behind quarterback Justin Haddix, Gibbs said that his defensive will have to be fundamentally sound this weekend to have success against the small but quick Hilltoppers.

"They're as well-coached of a football team as I have seen," Gibbs said. "They know what causes defenses problems. They mix option and mix unbalanced formations. They do a really good job. The quarterback started against us a few years back so he's been through this thing before. I'm sure he'll do a lot better this time through. They are an explosive offensive football team I don't care who they play. We have to be technique sound and assignment sound or they're going to gash us, which we can't let happen."

After as easy win last weekend against Ball State there might be a tendency to overlook WKU because they are a smaller division team. Gibbs said that would be a big mistake for the Tigers to make this week against an explosive offensive team.

"I know one thing and that's these guys are well coached and they're going to come after us," Gibbs said. "Anybody that falls for that I-AA thing is in for a rude awakening. If we play good it doesn't matter who we play. If we continue to make mistakes we'll continue to get embarrassed out there on Saturday afternoons."

There is no pleasing a college football coach and a perfect example of that is Gibbs at the moment. Despite only giving up three points in its last two games and just one touchdown in its last 15 quarters, Gibbs said that this defense has a long way to go before they can look at themselves as a finished product.

"I don't think we're getting rapidly better," Gibbs said. "I think we're making improvements. Regardless of what some people think I think we're a young defensive football team, an inexperienced defense. We take baby steps. We can't handle success right now. We go four or five series and play great and then give up a 10-play drive. Regardless of how that drive ends up, when you're playing certain schemes against certain people you ought to be able to get off the field in less plays than that in my opinion. I don't think we've made tremendous strides. I think if we keep working we'll surprise some people down the road, but we're in a good position right now. Nobody is talking about us. We're kind of plodding along. We'll just keep fighting."

An injury that could affect the Tigers this weekend is a hamstring strain by starting punter Kody Bliss. Injuring it while running following Sunday's practice, Bliss sat out of Tuesday's practice, but could be ready to go against Western Kentucky. If he's not then sophomore back-up Patrick Martyn would take his place. Martyn has been very impressive in practice and should be a solid replacement if needed.

Other injuries for the Tigers look to be getting better as defensive end Stanley McClover practiced minimally on Tuesday, but following the workout he said he would be back by kickoff on Saturday. Noseguard Josh Thompson didn't practice and is doubtful for the game. The Tigers hope to have him back by the South Carolina game in two weeks. Cornerback Lorenzo Ferguson strained his back lifting weights and was riding an exercise bike on Tuesday. He could return to practice on Wednesday. The same is true of safety Tony Bell, who strained a knee against Ball State late in the contest.

Auburn will return to the practice field Wednesday and Thursday before using Friday as a short walk-through. Saturday's homecoming contest is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and there is no television for the contest.

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