Auburn's head coach, Tommy Tuberville, said after Wednesday evening's practice that quarterback Kodi Burns, who rushed for 69 yards in the opener, is making progress and could see game action this week. Burns suffered a cut on his leg last Saturday night that required stitches.
"Kodi practiced and looked a little bit better," Tuberville said. "He's still not running the ball, but he's doing good throwing. He's releasing the ball well. He's not showing any signs of his leg bothering him. He's got a chance (to play Saturday), but he's got to do better tomorrow (Thursday). He needs to get a good practice in tomorrow to have a chance to go.
Last week Auburn ran for 321 yards against ULM while Southern Miss topped 400 against ULL. Tuberville said the challenge for Auburn's defense this weekend will be trying to slow down All-American Damion Fletcher.
"They've got a lot of good players," Tuberville said. "Damion is a slasher, a guy that makes plays. He's very physical…we look forward to the challenge. We faced a pretty good running back last week and we will next week and the week after."
While much of the focus this Saturday will be on Fletcher, Auburn's backfield is off to a solid start this season. Led by senior Brad Lester and junior Ben Tate, the Tigers have talent and depth at the position, depth that will be bolstered this weekend by the return to senior Tristan Davis to the mix.
"Both of them have been excellent running backs for us," Tuberville said of Lester and Tate. "Brad Lester is a quicker, faster, smaller guy. Ben Tate is a bigger inside runner. We also have Eric Smith, a true freshman that played well for us last week. Tristan Davis will make his debut this season. We want to be able to throw the ball but obviously running the ball is what we do best. We're going to have to build on that going into our passing game."
The passing game should get some much needed help this week as the Tigers had some injured players back on the practice field Wednesday afternoon. Tuberville said the team had a little different practice as they worked on polishing up both sides of the ball in preparation for Southern Miss.
"It was hot and humid which was good," Tuberville said. "We're going to need that. We've got a quick turnaround for tomorrow. We did a little bit different today. We went totally separate from each other working on timing for both sides against the scout team. We did nothing against each other. We're trying to find a good way to practice for our guys not to wear them out in terms of defense on every rep going the speed of light."
Senior wide receiver James Swinton was back on the practice field getting ready for the opener and also back practicing was wide receiver Montez Billings. Out for the first game with a tight hamstring, Billings practiced on Wednesday and Tuberville said he looked good and could see action against USM. The same is true of linebacker Merrill Johnson. Bothered by a tight hamstring, Tuberville said Johnson was around 90 percent at the moment and should be fine for Saturday.
With both Swinton and Billings back out the Tigers are closer to a full complement of wide receivers heading into this weekend's game. Tuberville said he's seen an increased focus on the passing game this week in practice and he's hoping it pays off.
"It has gone good," Tuberville said. "We're catching the ball better. The biggest thing is we've got to keep working on it and stressing the little things. We didn't do that great in the passing game and it was everybody's fault, the offensive line, the quarterbacks, tight ends, backs, wide receivers, coaches, everybody. You couldn't put a finger on it so we challenged everybody this week to pick up the tempo and work on the timing and to concentrate better.
"It has been good this week," he added. "Everybody is in tune. This thing, we had 400 yards and scored some points. It can do much better if we only hit a couple of cylinders."
The Tigers will practice Thursday morning before having a short walk-through on Friday. Kickoff for Saturday's game against Southern Miss is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and can be seen regionally on Raycom Sports.
Also on Wednesday, Tuberville gave updates on two players sidelined by injuries this fall. Asked about rumors that offensive guard Chaz Ramsey had left Auburn after suffering a back injury that has kept him from playing or practicing football, Tuberville said, "He's still here. He's still in school. If you're going to transfer you're going to have to change schools because of academics. It's one of those things. I don't know what to tell you about it.
"He hasn't practiced with us," Tuberville added. "Nobody has told me anything. I've heard rumors, too. I've checked and he's still in school. He hasn't been to many practices because he rehabs at a physical therapist. They sent him to another person."
Tuberville also addressed defensive end Raven Gray's status with the team. He is a juco transfer defensive end who is coming off of knee surgery. Gray is scheduled to be redshirted this season. "He's not playing, he's redshirting. He's not out there, he's totally rehabbing. He won't be out there all fall. He just can't go. I told Arnold (trainer Arnold Gamber) to get him ready for the spring."