Injuries Still A Concern For Tigers

Coach Tommy Tuberville says the Tigers had a good practice, but are still banged up with two days remaining until kickoff against Vanderbilt.

Auburn, Ala.--Technical problems forced the Auburn Tigers to start Thursday morning's practice earlier than normal as Coach Tommy Tuberville put his troops through the paces for two hours in shorts and shoulder pads in the final practice before Saturday's game against the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Tuberville says it was a good day for his team as it tries to get as healthy as possible before the early kickoff this weekend.

"Our server went down so we didn't have any film to watch," Tuberville says. "We had to go earlier and now we'll go and watch film after the server has been fixed. It was a good practice, but we've got to mentally get ready for this game. Physically we are what we are. We've got a lot of guys beat up, but that's part of it.

"We did all of our game plan today and all of our kicking," he adds. "We're getting in a pretty good routine now, but we need to find some time to get a little bit more rest, but there is no rest for the weary. We've got a tough month of October coming up. This will be the first one."

On the injury front the news continues to improve for senior defensive end Quentin Groves. Dislocating three toes against Florida last Saturday night, he ran on the side for much of Thursday's practice. Tuberville says he's just one of several banged up players who have improved this week. He says now they wait to see who can go against the Commodores.

"We'll find out who is ready to play Saturday," Tuberville says. "Quentin ran today, but he won't play. He looked good running. He ran three-quarter speed, but he's sore. He's going to be sore for the next six months. He just has to work through it. He's tough. He knows what he can do and can't do."

One player who has a definite chance to see some action for the first time in nearly a month is junior linebacker Merrill Johnson. Auburn's most experienced player at the position, Johnson injured a shoulder early in the South Florida game and has been out since then. Tuberville says he's looking better in practice, but he's still not sure Johnson will be able to go.

"He practiced some but not a lot," Tuberville says. "He's probably 20 or 30 percent better than he was this time last week. It will be a game decision on him, what they think he can do. We don't want to put him out there if he can't protect himself."

Getting as many defensive players healthy as possible will be big this weekend for the Tigers as they face a dangerous offense in the Commodores. Led by Alabama natives Chris Nickson and Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt is scoring nearly 30 points per game. Tuberville says that it's not just the skill guys that make this team a tough match up for the Tigers.

"This is the best Vandy team I have seen in a long time," Tuberville says. "They've got good linemen and the skill players are much better. Their scheme helps them run the football. They are well-balanced. They beat Georgia last year. They have a good defensive line and they really play hard. They get all out of their players that they can get. They are kind of like us. One week from the next you are just trying to improve. The main thing they do is really play hard. They play as hard as anybody we'll play."

Bennett is a player that neither Auburn nor Alabama offered coming out of West End High School. Now within striking distance of the SEC record for receptions in a career, Tuberville says sometimes you just miss on a kid and it happens all across the country.

"It's the same thing as Rod Smith," Tuberville says. "You don't know. We evaluate everybody and look at them. He's a heck of a player. They get it to him a lot and use him, which is good coaching. Those things happen. How did Colorado beat Oklahoma. It's the same thing. They've got good players.

"That's the reason there's not many upsets anymore. If you don't show up you could get better. Bennett is one of those guys that obviously has bloomed well but again you've got to have coaches that use him. They use him a lot."

Saturday's kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and can be seen regionally on Lincoln Financial Sports. Auburn will wear white uniforms with no emblems on the helmet to honor the 1957 National Championship Tiger team. Tuberville says the small changes this weekend are a tribute to not only a great team but a great group of Auburn men.

"There's not a lot of throwback in the uniform other than the gray facemask and no AU," Tuberville says. "The players like the gray facemasks. I think it's good for the 57 team. It's good to honor them for 50 years. It has been a good group of guys that have done a lot for Auburn. I have met most of them over the years. It's a good celebration for them. The players, they like a little bit of change. They would love to change a lot of thing,s but I think we wear throwback uniforms every week. We haven't changed much in years which is good. You need to have tradition."

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