Tigers Get Physical With Sunday Practice

Coaches Al Borges and Don Dunn talk about Sunday's practice and getting ready to face Arkansas.

Auburn, Ala.–Following a two-day lay-off to close the off-week, the Auburn Tigers returned to the practice field Sunday for a physical two-hour practice in full pads. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said the day was a good one for the team as they get ready to face Arkansas on Saturday in Fayetteville.

"We had a pretty good practice today," Borges said. "I think we went 20 periods (five minutes each). That is by intent. Offensively we want to be pretty physical. We're trying to improve our running game and the defense knows they're facing a team that really likes to run the ball. We were pretty saucy today.

"We won't maintain that tempo the whole week, but we're going in there and we're in for a little fight. This team is better than its record. I know that sounds like something a coach would normally say, but they are better than their record. They've got some talent."

Up front on offense the Tigers were without center Steven Ross for the second consecutive practice as he continues to be bothered by a strained hip flexor suffered in two-a-days. After playing well and feeling healthy for much of the early part of the season, a recurrence has given Ross problems since the South Carolina game. Expected to start against Arkansas, Ross could be replaced by Joe Cope if he hasn't shown improvement by Tuesday. Cope started the first five games for the Tigers.

Continuing his meteoric rise up the depth chart, Brad Lester will enter the Arkansas game as the starter said running backs coach Eddie Gran. Both Lester and Kenny Irons are expected to get the bulk of the carries against the Razorbacks.

Josh Thompson's return to the defensive line is like getting two players back said coach Don Dunn.

Elsewhere on the injury front the Tigers are getting healthier as wide receiver Courtney Taylor and defensive lineman Josh Thompson both returned to practice after sitting out last week to rest sore ankles. Both should be ready for Saturday night's game and facing a physical team like Arkansas makes Thompson's return a big one for the Auburn defense said line coach Don Dunn.

"It helps a whole bunch," Dunn said. "He's a kid that we can play at either the three-technique or nose, so he's really like two guys. He's not 100 percent. I kind of watched him a little bit today. Hopefully by Tuesday, which gives him two days, he'll be back. His temperment, his aggressiveness, his want-to, his love for the game, you can really see that out there. It's like a different level when he's on the field because of his intensity."

With Thompson back on the field the Tigers now have a solid two-deep with starters Tommy Jackson and Wayne Dickens backed up by Thompson and Tez Doolittle with Andrew McCain also working at tackle. True freshman Sen'Derrick Marks continues to be bothered by a sprained ankle while Neil Brown has made the move to defensive end.

A 6-3, 289 sophomore, Doolittle has emerged as a solid player for the Tigers up front this season and has seven tackles along with one and a half sacks in five games. Dunn said he's been pleased with the development of the Opelika native this fall.

"There's still sometimes, like a lot of young guys do, that he reverts back to back habits," Dunn said. "He might take a play off here or there, but he has gotten better. He needs to help us and he has. He's getting better. I keep talking to him about being more mature and watching more film, the things away from the practice field that you have to do to be a great player like studying your opponent. He's given us some quality snaps and hopefully he'll continue to do so because he's going to have to."

Another player that has come on for the Tigers is senior tackle Wayne Dickens. Filling the space occupied so well last season by Jay Ratliff, Dickens has battled back from preseason struggles to become one of Auburn's top defensive linemen this season. In five games he has 15 tackles with two sacks and three and a half tackles for a loss. Dunn said that Dickens' development has been huge for the defense this season.

"I'm very happy with Wayne Dickens," Dunn said. "He has shown a lot of leadership. He took the challenges that we put on him, especially him because he had not been a regular starter. He had been kind of hot and cold, but he has played as well as anybody. He had another good day today. He has been more focused. He's done everything we've asked him."

Early in the season, following the loss to Georgia Tech, Dunn was outspoken about the need to become more physical up front on defense. Four games later he said that he feels like this team as a whole, and particularly the defensive line, has responded to the challenges set forth by the coaching staff.

"Tommy has always been physical," Dunn said. "Wayne is getting more and more physical. Josh is a physical kid. Andrew (Andrew McCain) is not where we want him to be yet, and Tez can be physical at times. He's just learning the position. Everybody has talked about being more physical, but we've had some good practices. We've done a lot of hitting the last two weeks, a lot of one-on-one with Coach (Hugh) Nall. That just makes you better and tougher. We're getting there."

The Tigers will watch film on Monday instead of Sunday after a computer problem shut down Auburn's video systems on Sunday. They will return to the practice field on Tuesday and practice through Thursday before heading to Arkansas on Friday. Kickoff on Saturday night is set for 6 o'clock and there is no television for the game.

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