Tommy Tuberville said Wednesday's practice was an improvement over Tuesday's workout, but added that he would like to see even more improvement when the Tigers get back to work on Thursday for their final session to prepare for Tennessee.
"This was a better practice than the one we had yesterday," Tuberville said. "We had a lot more tempo. Guys are starting to get the soreness out after a physical game last week and it takes a few days."
Auburn is 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC as the Tigers prepare to face a Tennessee team that is off to a 1-2 start, with an 0-1 mark in the league. Despite the record, Tuberville said the defending SEC East champions from Knoxville are a talented team.
"The big thing you worry about after playing a game like that (LSU) and coming back and playing another big game is their emotions," Tuberville said of his players. "You try to get them back to where they were last week. We are not quite there yet. I am hoping tomorrow (Thursday) we will have a little bit better practice than we had today. That is not unusual. We had a good day. It is starting to cool off and that helps, too."
The Auburn coach noted the Tigers are working redshirt sophomore Zach Clayton at strongside defensive end, a spot he played in high school, to bolster the depth at that position.
Starting strongside defensive end Michael Goggans has an ankle sprain and backup Jomarcus Savage has been shut down for the season after not responding favorably to treatment on a preseason shoulder injury. The true freshman from Huntsville, a standout in the early workouts, played in the opener, but will qualify for a medical hardship redshirt after having surgery for the problem.
Tuberville said that Goggans should be ready to play vs. the Volunteers and the same thing is true of running back Brad Lester, who went down with a twisted knee vs. LSU. Lester saw limited action in Wednesday's two-hour workout.
Another running back, Tristan Davis, did not practice due to a concussion he suffered vs. LSU when he was accidentally kicked in the head when returning a kickoff. Tuberville said the senior told the coach to expect him to be ready to play for Saturday's 2:30 p.m. game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Linebacker Craig Stevens, who was held out of Tuesday's practice with an ankle problem, was back on the field on Wednesday and should play vs. the Vols, Tuberville said.
Senior linebacker Chris Evans, who is a co-starter with Merrill Johnson at weakside, can play the strongside spot, too, if needed. Freshman Spencer Pybus and senior Courtney Harden have also seen action as strongside linebacker backups.
Another linebacker, Tray Blackmon who starts in the middle, has a cracked bone in his wrist, but will be able to play, too, the coach noted.
Starting safety Zac Etheridge, who suffered a shoulder injury vs. LSU, is practicing full speed.
Tuberville noted that his team is trying to shake off a disappointing loss to LSU. "Each week in this league it is a battle," he said. "The ones that dwell on wins and losses usually have problems getting to the next game. Our coaching staff over the years has done a good job of getting our guys focused on the next game fairly quickly.
"What we do, we come in on Sunday and get that game out of the way, win or lose," the Auburn coach said. "We start our game plan on the practice field with our players. We start implementing things we are going to do for the next team on that Sunday."
Tuberville said Wednesday's non-contact practice focused on installing the game plan and improving the kicking game. Clinton Durst, who missed the LSU game while recovering from an illness, is scheduled to be the starting punter. "He is a little weak, but he is punting pretty good," the coach said. Ryan Shoemaker, who punted vs. LSU, had a disappointing performance on his shot to win back the starting job he had last year.
In other news:
Tuberville said he likes the work ethic he has seen from Michael Goggans, who is in his first year as a starter. "He has gotten a lot stronger," the coach said. "We moved him from tight end to defensive end pretty early, figuring out that was his personality. He loved contact. He has got good speed and quickness. He is not a real big guy, but he can hold his own. He has got good leverage.
"The thing I like about Michael is that he loves football," Tuberville added. "If you play on the defensive line in the SEC you better like football. Last week he played over a guy who was 6-7 sometimes and it was a challenge for him. I like the way he is growing. He is not where he is going to be in a year or so, but he is getting better every day."
*Commenting on Robert Dunn's improvement as a punt returner, Tuberville said, "I thought last year, about the middle of the year, he really started coming around. He started growing up understanding what we were trying to teach him. Understanding returns and being patient, all of those things have to come to you."
*Tuberville and UT head coach Phillip Fulmer are 3-3 in Tigers vs. Vols matchups.