Auburn, Ala.--Continuing preparations for the Cotton Bowl game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Auburn Tigers practiced for just over two hours in full pads on Tuesday. Coach Tommy Tuberville says the focus of his team continues to be good as they put in the gameplan and focus on special teams.
"It was another good day of practice," Tuberville says. "The guys are really holding their concentration well. That's always a concern when you go this many times in a row. Tomorrow we'll have another practice about like we did today. We're going to try to cut back Thursday to get them out of here. So far it has been good. We've had two good days against things Nebraska has done all year long. We're going to have to do a lot of mental preparation for the next two days."
On the injury front the Tigers were without two defensive linemen as Marquies Gunn was held out of practice after suffering a sprained neck on Monday. Likewise Tez Doolittle suffered a banged up shoulder. Tuberville says both could be back this week but will definitely return when the team meets in Dallas to begin practices on Dec. 26.
Defensive end Quentin Groves chases down the play from behind.
The Tigers spent a great deal of time Tuesday working on special teams, something that Tuberville likes to give time to as much as possible. Kicker John Vaughn has been under the weather for much of the last week but Tuberville says Tuesday he had a good day as the Tigers focused more on the plans for Nebraska.
"We worked a lot more on the kicking game today," Tuberville says. "It's coming around. John Vaughn has been kind of under the weather but he was back today and did a good job. When you have this long to work it gives you an opportunity to do a few things on special teams that we hadn't been able to work on most of the year consistently. Coach (Eddie) Gran has taken a good, firm approach to doing things more consistently this game. We've been pretty good but we're going to try to be better. Hopefully things will work for us."
While the special teams is working on improving the offense and defense are getting the basics down on Nebraska. In a normal situation that would be a grueling process to learn a new opponent but Tuberville says because the Cornhuskers are very similar to Auburn on both sides of the ball the process has been smoother than normal. Because of the similarities Tuberville says it has also helped the younger players get a jump on spring football because of the carry over.
"There is a lot of familiarity on both sides and that has helped," Tuberville says. "Not going against Nebraska things the first three days there was really a lot of carry over. It's not that we haven't seen a lot of it. It has really helped our younger players running the same things that they'll run after practice and once we get to spring practice. It has been a lot of good work for the young players.
"It's really going to pay off for us. They're going to have a good advantage going into spring practice. All this film we're getting in the last 45 minutes of practice we're going to put it together and be able to work with them in the months of January and February in meetings. We can show them what they are doing. Right now we don't really have time to go over it with them. It's going to give us a lot of film and instead of watching other people they can watch themselves and what they did and be able to correct what they did before spring practice."
One of the young players that has captured the eye of Tuberville and his staff is defensive lineman Zach Clayton. Up to 275 pounds, the redshirt freshman has worked at both defensive tackle and defensive end this fall and is expected to get his first look at strong side defensive end in the spring. Tuberville says that Clayton's development has been rapid and he's looking for big things out of the Opelika standout.
"Zach is going to be a heck of a football player," Tuberville says. "He's got a lot of strength. He's got a tremendous work ethic. The big thing for him is just holding and maintaining his weight, being able to handle that. He's going to get bigger and faster every day. The thing we like about him is his attitude towards playing the game. He's always 110 percent. You get more feedback from the players that go against him and all of the older players are really high on what he's done on the scout team and just his attitude. He's going to be a special player if he continues to keep the same attitude."
Another young player that is moving up the depth chart is running back Benjamin Tate. Gran says that after several average practices earlier in the bowl preparations Tate has come on strong in the last two days of work. So strong in fact that Gran says he's planning to get Tate in the game early against Nebraska to see how he responds.
Some good news for the Tigers came earlier in the week when Quentin Groves announced he was almost certain he would be returning for his senior season in 2007. Groves got some good news of his own earlier this week when he found out that he was eligible for graduation this semester in Criminology. A class that he took during the summer was reviewed and he earned his degree. Groves says it was a special moment for him and hopefully he'll be able to add to his education in the coming year.
"One of my grades from the summer had to be fully inspected to make sure I had all my class work," Groves says. "I just thank God that it's all over. I'm trying to get a second degree in Social Work. I love working with kids and if it doesn't work out in football I want to be a coach. I think Social Work will help me out in that field."
The Tigers have two more practices scheduled on campus before breaking for Christmas. The team will resume practicing in Dallas on the campus of SMU on Dec. 27. The kickoff for the AT&T Cotton Bowl game is scheduled for 10:40 a.m. and can be seen on Fox.