Auburn, Ala.--The usual Thursday morning practice came a little earlier than normal for the Auburn Tigers as a forecast for rain pushed up the practice by almost an hour as the team prepares for LSU. Coach Tommy Tuberville says the adjustment allowed the coaches to polish the work on the gameplan as well as get in some last minute work for Saturday's game.
"It was a good practice," Tuberville says. "Everybody moved around good. We had to go a little early because of the rain. We need it. We worked mostly on the kicking game today and did some special things we're thinking about doing."
The health of the team remains an issue for Auburn, but for the first time this season the defense looks to be almost close to full strength as Merrill Johnson, Quentin Groves and Aairon Savage all again practiced on Thursday. Offensively Ryan Pugh got some work in, but didn't practice the entire day. Tuberville says there are still some question marks, but it was a good sign to see so many guys practicing on Thursday.
"Most of the guys practiced," Tuberville says. "Ryan Pugh walked around a little bit, but not much. We'll go with what we've got. It's a big game and a late night, but we're looking forward to it.
"Everybody was moving around good," he adds. "We needed some depth. We needed guys to get some relief. Chris Evans has been the road warrior. He has played every position and played well. He's beat up. Quentin is beat up, but he's back. Merrill Johnson is going to help. He's getting close, but he's not 100 percent. He did a lot more this week than he did last week. He'll play quite a bit. Savage is moving around good. Getting some experienced guys out there, only if they play a dozen plays, that will help."
Because of the late night travel from Arkansas last Saturday night and another tough road trip this week, Auburn took Sunday off and only watched film on Monday in order to get their legs back after a long first half of the season took its toll. Tuberville says looking back on the move he feels like it has paid off this week with some good practices for the Tigers.
"We're a lot more mentally back into it," Tuberville says. "Today was more of a walk-through than anything. We practiced real hard on Tuesday and Wednesday. We pulled them back in terms of physical contact. We were just trying to make sure everybody was mentally ready to go. I think it was a relief to everybody, the coaches, myself, everybody, to be able to get away from each other for a couple of days."
Johnson, Savage and Groves aren't the only guys happy to be back on the field for Auburn's defense as sophomore Jermarcus Ricks is just as happy to be playing a vital role for the Tigers as a back up to Josh Thompson and Pat Sims on the defensive line. Out for almost a month early in the season because of a strained hamstring, Ricks says he's just now coming into his own and feels good about the way he's playing at the moment.
"It has just been looking at the other guys like Pat and Josh and Sen'Derrick and learning different techniques and learning how to come out of my hips instead of doing all that stepping I used to do last year," Ricks says. "Basically those guys helped me out a lot. If it wasn't for those guys I feel like I would be just another guy. I give a lot of credit to those guys."
Ricks is just one of the many young Tigers taking their first trip to Baton Rouge to face LSU in Tiger Stadium. In fact there are 27 players in the regular playing rotation for Auburn that are either freshmen or sophomores. That means a learning experience for quite a few players Saturday night, but also one that Ricks says they are looking forward to.
"I think it's going to be fun," Ricks says. "I really don't know for real, but I have been hearing a lot of stuff. I think it will be fun. They've told me it's real wild down there, but we'll have a great time and play some football."
Auburn will have a short walk-through on Friday before departing for Baton Rouge at 3 p.m. The kickoff for Saturday's game is scheduled for just after 8 p.m. and the game can be seen live on ESPN.