Auburn, Ala.--Auburn got back on the practice field Tuesday morning with a two-hour practice in full pads as the Tigers get ready for their final non-conference game of the regular season against Arkansas State. With just three weeks left on the schedule the offense got some good news as center Joe Cope was back with the first team and coach Tommy Tuberville says he will start against the Indians Saturday.
"We had a good practice today," Tuberville says. "We practiced about two hours. It looks like we're getting healthier. Joe Cope has moved back to the first team center. You don't lose your starting position because of an injury and he's also a senior. (Jason) Bosley did an excellent job while he was gone. He will also play this week but Joe will be the starter working with the first team.
"We're getting him back into the flow of things and we'll see how he holds up physically. He looked great out there today and moved around well. He was a little sore at the end of practice. It will also give Jason a chance to get back close to 100 percent which he hasn't been the last few weeks."
Cope wasn't the only injured player to get back on the practice field Tuesday as tight end Cole Bennett ran and did some cutting on his injured ankle. Tuberville says that while he's still not cleared for contact and may not be until next week the senior could return as early as the Georgia game in a limited role.
With several players still banged up after playing through some bumps and bruises last week at Ole Miss the Tigers are still not at full strength. Several players missed Tuesday's practice and could be limited this weekend against Arkansas State says Tuberville.
"Aairon Savage is still a little bit beat up but he did practice," Tuberville says. "Tim Duckworth did not practice today. We held him out but he will practice tomorrow with the offensive line. It will be good to get all these seniors back together and healthy for the last few games. Kevin Sears did not practice, he's one of the other guys that did not practice. Marquies Gunn did not practice the first part but he did come back and practice the last part. He's just got a sprained neck or shoulder. We expect him to play this week."
Still not satisfied with the performance of his team on either side of the ball Tuberville says they are continuing to work on fundamentals to try to improve heading into this week's game. Tuesday that meant more best against best work which is something Tuberville believes in.
"It was a good practice," Tuberville says. "We're still doing a lot against each other. It was a very physical practice today. We're still working on running the football and stopping the run. We're still not where we want to be in either one of those. It's still a work in progress with the entire team. We've got to get back to basics which we did today and try to get better."
Rodgeriqus Smith is Auburn's second leading receiver this season with 21 catches for 347 yards and leads the team in touchdown catches with three.
One area that has shown improvement since the beginning of the season is at wide receiver where coach Greg Knox had just one proven veteran returning this season in Courtney Taylor. The emergence of sophomore walk-on Rodgeriqus Smith has given the Tigers a solid number two receiver and Tuberville says the group is continuing to work to get better each and every week.
"We've gotten better," Tuberville says. "Greg Knox has done a good job. He stays on them all the time. The big thing early in the season is that you have to have confidence between your quarterback and receivers. If it's a 15-yard route and they are running 12-yard routes or 18-yard routes it really breaks up the timing.
"Brandon (Cox) was running for his life a lot and the one guy he was looking for because he knows he'll do what's right is Courtney. The younger guys are learning. They are understanding how to get off man coverage pressure when they're on top of them. They are learning how to run routes versus a zone. It's just an ongoing process."
The Tigers will practice again Wednesday afternoon as they continue preparations for Arkansas State. Saturday's kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and will be available on a pay-per-view basis only in Alabama.