Coach Tommy Tuberville says he hopes that doesn't hinder his team's performance as the Tigers face a struggling 2-7 Louisiana-Monroe team at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Tuberville and the rest of the coaching staff along with Auburn fans will honor 15 seniors. The group includes six current starters and six others who have broken into the starting lineup as collegians.
Offensively, the senior group includes starters tight end Lorenzo Diamond, center Ben Nowland and wide receiver Marcel Willis plus former starters Daniel Cobb (quarterback), Ryan Hockett (guard) and Michael Owens (fullback). The other offensive senior is fullback Marshall Thornton.
Defensively, the senior starters include Roderick Hood or Horace Willis at cornerback, Travaris Robinson at free safety and Mark Brown at middle linebacker. Cornerback Rashaud Walker has been a starter, too, and Dante Booker is a reserve tackle.
Tommy Tuberville said after Thursday's practice that there is a chance that the Tigers will be able to get all of the seniors into game action on Saturday. The Auburn head coach said he liked what he saw at Thursday's practice, an hour and 15-minute tuneup that featured work on the offensive and defensive game plans as well as punt returns, kickoff returns and field goal kicking. Tuberville noted that Duval, who will handle both field goals and punts, looked good in the Thursday session that included some very high, very long Duval boomers in the punting portion of practice.
With the visiting Indians being a huge underdog in Saturday's game, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Tigers have a letdown this week with the rivalry games just around the corner. Mark Brown says as a senior it is one of his responsibilities to make sure that doesn't happen.
"I am just trying to be more of a leader on the team more than worrying about individual stuff," he says. "I am just trying to get the team together so we don't have a nosedive like we did at the end of the season last year. We are trying to finish off the season off strong."
Mark Brown (52) is shown at Thursday's practice with fellow linebacker Jake Slaughter.
Brown predicts that the Tigers will be ready to play on Saturday even though Louisiana-Monroe has won just two games this season. "It's not too hard to be ready because the coaches get us ready. They give us things to think about to get ready for the game--not so much thinking about Louisiana-Monroe, but thinking about stuff that is going to help us be ready to beat Alabama and Georgia so that is kind of motivating us."
Auburn, which is 6-3 overall, will be trying to win its third straight game in its fourth and final non-conference matchup. Louisiana-Monroe is likely the weakest team the Tigers will face this year, but Brown says the Tigers don't need to worry about that. "I think the worst thing we can do on Saturday is to take Louisiana-Monroe lightly and take a step backwards instead of making progress on the season. f we take a step backwards against Louisiana-Monroe it is not going to help us to beat Georgia and Alabama. So that' is what we are focusing on. We know they are a good team and they are capable of beating us. We want to go out there and give them a good showing on Saturday."
Tuberville says that he is seeing signs that the defense is being more comfortable in the 4-3 system run by new coordinator Gene Chizik. Brown says he believes the defense is improving and says, "I think that just has to do with us getting more comfortable with the schemes. Even though he (Chizik) has been here since last spring, it took us a while to get the hang of it. We are also playing with a lot of confidence. I think you can see that on the field."
Brown, a fifth-year senior, has overcome injuries early in his career and a position move from defensive end. He has prospered at middle linebacker and currently leads the team with 52 tackles. "It does seem like a while ago," he says, remembering his freshman season. "It has all been worth it. I had a lot of fun here at Auburn, and I just want to finish the thing up right."
For Brown, "to finish the thing up right" will be a strong finish, indeed. Last year injuries cost him his spot in the starting lineup and he was not full speed down the stretch when the Tigers had a chance to win the SEC West but couldn't close the deal. "We don't want them to remember this team crashing the same as last year," Brown says. "We want to finish up strong and get to a big-time BCS bowl BCS game. If we do it the way we are supposed to, we will get them started on the right foot for next year."
Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino makes a point at Thursday's practice as Daniel Cobb (16), Steven Ross (74) and Josh Sullivan watch.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Freshman defensive tackle Antwarn Franklin was dismissed from team at Thursday's practice and will not be allowed to return, Tuberville said. Franklin is a 6-4, 328-pounder from Woodlawn High in Birmingham. He originally signed with Auburn in 2001, but did not qualify and re-signed in 2002.