Enthusiastic Tigers Ready For Break

Coach Tommy Tuberville talks about Wednesday's practice and the attitude of the team during the off-week.

Auburn, Ala.–-Enjoying a cool day on the Plains, the Auburn Tigers practiced for two hours Wednesday as they continue preparations for the Arkansas Razorbacks during an off-week for the team. Coach Tommy Tuberville said he has been pleased with the focus of the Tigers as they get closer to their first weekend off since August.

"We had a good, long practice today," Tuberville said. "It was very physical. We did a lot of fundamentals and techniques. We worked on some kicking game. Then we worked about 45 minutes on our gameplan for next week. It was a good practice with a lot of enthusiasm. It was the first cool day we've had and I think that was a big reason for it. The guys are excited about the opportunity to go home Friday after class.

"Everybody is in good spirits," Tuberville added. "We're playing pretty good. Everybody knows that every game now is going to be on the line in the conference. We're hitting stride at about the right time. Everybody is excited about going home and then coming back and practicing and then going on the road for a game. We see a lot more enthusiasm from the players than we saw a month ago."

The offensive depth chart continues to be a fluid thing as on Tuesday Steven Ross worked with the first-team at center and was named the starter for the Arkansas game. On Wednesday Brad Lester said that he got the majority of the reps with the first team. Lester said that running backs coach Eddie Gran told him he would get a shot to win the starting job now that they have settled on Lester and Kenny Irons as the top two tailbacks. Lester said both remain best friends, but he's going to battle to be the man for the Tigers.

Brad Lester has been the biggest riser on Auburn's depth chart so far this season.

While the injury situation is good for the Tigers, several players were held out of Wednesday's practice to give them an extra day to recover. Wide receiver Courtney Taylor was one of those. The junior receiver has been bothered by a sprained ankle and while he played well against South Carolina, spent Wednesday riding an exercise bike on the sidelines.

Also sitting out the practice were defensive linemen Josh Thompson, Neil Brown and Sen'Derrick Marks. Thompson, who played well in his first game back after a high ankle sprain, is closer to 100 percent but was given a day off to make sure he's completely healthy for next week. Marks is also bothered by a sprained ankle and could return next week. Brown continues to be hampered with neck spasms. Tuberville said that although the players all are in the middle of the defense, he feels good about the depth the Tigers have at the moment.

"We'll keep pushing Andrew (Andrew McCain)," Tuberville said. "He's getting better and learning what to do and coming off the ball better. He'll be a factor for us down the stretch. With Josh banged up and Neil banged up we need the numbers.

"We've got plenty (of guys)," he added. "We could move some ends in there, but you would like to have the depth. We're fine at the moment."

Coming off their most impressive win of the season, the Tigers are getting ready for a stretch of six conference games to end the season with four of those on the road. Although things are far from perfect on both offense and defense at the moment, Tuberville said that the team is getting better and will continue to work on their problems before heading to Arkansas.

"Everything to us looks about the same," Tuberville said. "We're not great in anything, we're not bad in anything. As I grade us we're pretty much average considering the talent that we feel like we have and the depth. All we're working on now is trying to improve execution and get better in everything we're doing. There's not anything that just stands out like ‘we're a bad passing team or a bad rushing team or can't stop the pass or can't rush the passer'. Everything is good, but not great."

A part of the team that continues to get better is the defense under first-year coordinator David Gibbs. Last weekend's domination of South Carolina was nothing short of overwhelming to see and it's that sort of play that has Tuberville excited about his defense as they get into the meat of the schedule.

"I think he knows more about our players," Tuberville said. "It has taken a while to see what we can and can't do. This is a different team than last year, a lot of different players and guys playing in the game. There are some different things that we're doing. Are we there yet? No. Does he feel better about what we're doing and do I feel better about what he's doing? Yes. I think we're making a lot of strides."

The Tigers will have a short practice on Thursday afternoon before the team breaks until Sunday. Tuberville said that giving the players Friday off gives them a chance to concentrate on mid-term exams and also get out of town for the weekend to see their families.

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There were over a dozen NFL teams represented by scouts at Wednesday's practice, the second-straight day a large number were in attendance. Players such as Marcus McNeill, Troy Reddick, Travis Williams, Tommy Jackson, Anthony Mix, Devin Aromashodu and Ben Obomanu are on the hot lists for many teams and this was another chance for teams to scout them up close and personal.

I had a chance to speak with a scout from a NFC team for several minutes Wednesday and he said that Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler was going to be a high draft choice and was well liked by NFL teams at the moment. He also said that Southern California was the most talented team he's seen this season physically, but he felt Virginia Tech would give them the best game of anyone in the country.

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