Auburn, Ala.--A beautiful and warm Saturday greeted the Auburn Tigers as they practiced for two hours in full pads as they get ready to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day. Coach Tommy Tuberville says the practice was a good and he's pleased with the energy and enthusiasm of the team so far during the bowl practices.
"We start tomorrow working on Nebraska mentally," Tuberville says. "We'll have meetings tomorrow afternoon and give them most of the day off. We'll have treatments but nothing physical. Then we'll start Monday morning working four days on the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
"We got a lot of work with the young guys and we're going to continue to do that," he adds. "The enthusiasm is good. Nebraska is very similar to us on both sides of the ball so we're working on fundamentals. Now we'll break out in scout teams. We'll still work against each other quite a bit but we'll still do a little bit more kicking game."
One change this year is the way the Tigers are handling the bowl opponent preparation. Last year the Tigers had the complete game plan already in before breaking for Christmas. This year Tuberville says they are going to do some things different to make sure the team focuses more once it gets to Dallas.
"We want get it all in," Tuberville says. "We're going to do something different this year. We're not going to put everything in before we go. We want to keep their attention out in Dallas and have them thinking a little bit about what we need to work on. We're going to put in about 50 percent of our game plan before we leave and then we'll add the other 50 percent in Dallas."
Good news for the team is the return to full speed for several key performers on both sides of the ball. Defensively safety Eric Brock was back practicing and he says his ankle feels good once again after taking almost a full month off without practicing. Offensively quarterback Brandon Cox, tailback Kenny Irons and wide receiver Courtney Taylor all practiced well and looked good on the field. Tuberville says it's huge to have those guys back and ready to finish out the year strong.
"They are full speed and working hard," Tuberville says. "It's good that they are getting some full speed work in because they haven't done it all year long. It's kind of one of those deals where you don't practice but you play. We're looking forward now to seeing what they can do after a few full practices."
Tailback Kenny Irons fights for yardage with Tuberville looking on.
The Tigers will be without one player in the Cotton Bowl because of an injury as sophomore safety Lorenzo Ferguson had surgery this week on an injured shoulder. Tuberville says the decision was made to go ahead and have the surgery because the expected recovery time could be as much as seven or eight months.
With Ferguson out the work at safety with the second team has gone to Tristan Davis with Jerraud Powers and redshirt freshman Zac Etheridge also getting some reps. Tuberville says that this week has been big for the young players just to get them on the field and doing full speed work once again.
"We've got a lot of guys that are giving effort but their head is spinning," Tuberville says. "We're actually having meetings with them and putting in different things so we'll have a head start. It's hard to bring up any certain names but it's good to do this. We're going to continue to do it and we'll have a couple of scrimmages once we get to Dallas.
There could also be further position moves once the team gets to the practice site at SMU as one of the current tight ends could eventually be moved to the defensive side of the ball because of the return of Cole Bennett next season at the position. The speculation is that redshirt freshman Michael Goggans is the most likely candidate to move to defensive end and Tuberville says that a move could occur but he's not saying who.
"We're looking at that with Cole coming back," Tuberville says. "That was up to him and he's decided to come back. It's going to give us more experience which is good. We're going to be very inexperienced next year on the offensive line. It will help us. We're also going to sign a tight end or two but we're looking at a couple of guys maybe to work on the defensive side of the ball once we get to Dallas or even after we get back from the bowl game."
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Official visitors Jerrel Jernigan, Brandon Paul and Antoine Carter were all in attendance for Saturday's practice and appeared to be enjoying themselves on a gorgeous day on the Plains. The fourth visitor is Brent Slusher who was delayed leaving his home early Saturday morning but is scheduled to be in late on Saturday.
Current commitment Bailey Woods, his father, and two underclassmen teammates at Walton High in Marietta were on hand to watch practice and check out the Tigers. In addition four members of Prattville's 6A State Championship team were on hand to watch the practice. Junior running back Justin Albert, junior receiver Dekendrick Moncrief, sophomore receiver Quaylan Moncrief and sophomore tight end Hunter Powell and his father Chip Powell (former Auburn defensive back) were in Auburn to watch the Tigers practice.