Auburn, Ala.--It was a beautiful day on the Plains and that was perfect for the sixth-ranked Auburn Tigers to continue preparations for Arkansas State as the Tigers practiced for two-hours in shorts and shoulder pads. Coach Tommy Tuberville says that the workouts have been geared to see improvement on both sides of the ball because of how they have been structured.
"We've got everything in," Tuberville says of the game plan. "We did a lot against each other, ones versus ones and twos versus twos. We did some different things on special teams to try to prepare for this game and the ones coming up. We're just trying to make them a little bit better.
"It was a good practice with good tempo," he adds. "It's amazing. This is our 10th-straight game and there is no sign of mental fatigue. I don't worry about the physical, we can handle that. The mental fatigue is what you worry about but the guys look like they are in good spirits and excited about playing this weekend."
Auburn is getting healthier every day out as center Joe Cope continues to improve and had his best practice day yet on Wednesday. Also safety Aairon Savage practiced and while still sore, should be ready to go Saturday. Tuberville says that other than a few bumps and bruises the team appears to be getting back to full speed at just the right time.
"Joe Cope looked real good today," Tuberville says. "Cole Bennett looked good. He's getting a little more relaxed in his running and cutting. He's got a chance, not this week but next week. Kevin Sears ran about ¾ speed but not full speed. Other than that everyone else is in pretty good shape."
In addition to Cope another offensive linemen is coming around physically as Tim Duckworth practiced and went every snap according to Tuberville. That is good news for the unit heading into Saturday's game. Tailback Kenny Irons is also coming around physically and Tuberville says he's looking better than he has all season.
"He looks a little better this week but I don't think he's going to be healthy until June," Tuberville says. "You've got to run on it and he's just sore but he's getting better each week. This is the best he's been since Washington State. During the middle of the season he was beat up."
Gabe McKenzie is a physical player that should only improve with time at tight end.
One of the players that has made an impact on Auburn's offense this season is tight end Gabe McKenzie. A prospect known for his blocking and athletic ability coming out of Davidson High, McKenzie has worked hard on catching the football and it has paid off as the redshirt freshman heads into the Arkansas State game third on the team in catches with 12. He says that the progression he's made in one year is off the charts.
"Now I think I can catch every ball that comes to me," McKenzie says. "Before I would have to focus and try to get it and if not try to get the next one. I think I can catch all of them now basically.
"Me from last year to this year is a big difference," he adds. "I believe it's like 60 percent mental and could be more than that. You have to know what they are doing on defense and whether or not they're slanting, all kinds of things."
Despite his improvement catching the football McKenzie's first love is still blocking. That's because he's a very physical player that grew up enjoying contact. He says at Davidson he had no choice.
"Basically I come from a high school that ran the ball first and if we had to we would pass the ball," McKenzie says. "It's nothing new to me. It's what I'm used to doing."
McKenzie and the Tigers will face the Indians Saturday at 1:30 in a game that will be televised on a pay-per-view basis in Alabama and Arkansas. Contact your local cable company for ordering instructions. DirectTV and Dish Network subscribers may order through their satellite provider. Large C-band dish owners in Alabama and Arkansas may call 1-800-TV-STARS to order.