Wounded Defensive Unit Prepares For LSU

Injuries to key players on the defensive front make this a dicey week for the Auburn Tigers as the powerful LSU Tigers come to town.

Auburn, Ala.--Following the emotional rollercoaster Saturday night in Auburn's 30-23 overtime loss to Florida, coach Tommy Tuberville said on Sunday that the team is understandably upset after fighting back from an early deficit only to come up short. Injuries were the order of the day on Sunday as the head coach said that several players are questionable for this week's game versus LSU and will be evaluated as the week goes along.

The Tigers appear to be in dire straits up front on the defensive line with injuries to both Wayne Dickens and Tommy Jackson in Saturday's game to go along with an already banged-up Spencer Johnson at the tackle spot. Dickens, whose knee was rolled on Saturday night, had a MRI on Sunday and his injury was found to be just a bruise. His status will be determined day-to-day, but he did practice on Sunday and is likely to play vs. LSU.

Jackson, who played perhaps the best game of his short career against Florida, had his foot stomped on during the game and is listed as questionable for the LSU game although he was at practice on Sunday. Because of the uncertainty of the situation Tuberville said they're going to look at a few other possibilities at tackle this week.

Defensive tackle DeMarco McNeil played like a man possessed Saturday night in Auburn's overtime loss to Florida.

"We have Nate French that we can move over," Tuberville said. "We'll look at that this week not for just this week but for the next four games. (Dante) Booker is also going to have to play more. Somebody is going to have to play both inside and outside. It could be (Bret) Eddins, but probably more likely Dexter Murphy."

Defensive tackle coach Don Dunn said on Sunday that depth is always a concern, not only for the tackles but also the ends. True freshman Kyle Derozan has a banged-up shoulder and may not be available against LSU making the health of Reggie Torbor and Jay Ratliff very important for Saturday.

"It's always a concern," Dunn said of depth. "I know Terry's (Price) guys, Reggie, you know that story. Jay Ratliff didn't practice at all last week. The young kid Kyle has a bad shoulder, he didn't practice. It's a part of football. Not that it's an excuse, I don't want it to sound like that because we have to line up and play. It's very unusual because we start this season thinking that's going to be our strongest point. We're not out there and you have to be out there Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in this league. You don't get the reps and then in the game they try and they bust their butts, but it's so much different."

One good sign for Auburn was the play of junior DeMarco McNeil. Still not 100 percent after off-season knee surgery, the warrior came out in the Mobile native against Florida and led him to his best game of the season. Making tackles all over the field, he almost single-handedly willed the Auburn defense to play perhaps its best three quarters of the season Saturday night after struggling early against Rex Grossman and the Gators.

"That's probably the best game he's played," Tuberville said. "He played all over the field and wouldn't come out of the game. There's time when you didn't have to urge him to come out of the game, but it was encouraging to see players say ‘Let me stay in.' There were a lot of guys that grew up last night. That was a good football game. We played a good team on the road in a tough environment. It doesn't come any tougher than that, especially the first half. To fight through it, to overcome it, and to almost bring it home was a challenge that these guys met. We won it all but the scoreboard right at the end."

No matter what happens between now and Saturday on the defensive line, Dunn said he's confident that this group will get the job done. Saying that the entire team came back with a strong practice Sunday, the veteran coach said this team has shown him some things since the first practice of the fall.

"We've got great kids and I'm very proud of them," Dunn said. "In fact, I was anxious to get over here and be around them because I was pretty dadgum miserable. We got home about 1:30 a.m. and I was glad to get back over here and see them, to be honest with you. They were upbeat and they don't quit, they're just great kids. I said that when we were 0-0. They play hard and they want to win. I've been around some teams that didn't care if they won or lost. As long as you have kids like that to work with it makes my job a lot easier."

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