Tigers Trying a More Physical Approach

As the Auburn football Tigers prepare for Ole Miss, they are changing what they do in practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Tommy Tuberville and his coaching staff have changed their practice routine as the Tigers try to snap a three-game losing streak as they prepare for Saturday's SEC road football game at Ole Miss.

On Tuesday the Tigers practiced longer than normal, going well over two hours, and after the workout the players stayed for extra running in addition to doing their normal post-practice Tuesday weight training workout.

Quarterback Kodi Burns says he likes the changes in practice. "We were definitely more physical," he points out. "Coaches are looking for answers and I guess that is a good answer to be even more hard on us in practice, don't take it light on us and make us run. For every mistake we do, make us run. If that is what it is going to take, that is what we have to do.

"It has been real physical and we are going against our defense as opposed to the scout team the whole time now so it has changed up a little bit so that is going to help us out," he adds.

"I definitely like it personally," the sophomore quarterback says of the changes. "Instead of going against the scout team, as quarterback you get an actual read from a real defense from guys who actually do play on Saturdays."

One of the reasons for the practice changes is the Tigers are trying to figure out why they are playing so much better in the first half of games than the second halves. The 4-4 Tigers have led at halftime in every contest this season. Tuberville notes that he has met with his seniors and a variety of other players to get their input on the subject.

The answer they are going with is to get more physical in practice and increase the amount of conditioning drills, too.

Sophomore field goal kicker Wes Byrum, who is having an eventful week trying to hold on to his starting job, says the change in practice is a good thing. As was the case on Sunday, he practiced his kicks with a live, full speed rush.

"I think the change to the more physical practices are good for me and good for all us on both offense and defense," he says. "I thought I had a good day."

Byrum and walk-on Morgan Hull each made their field goals with the live rush in Tuesday's practice while Clinton Durst was off target on the cool, windy day that had a strong enough gusts to affect both the kicking and passing portions of practice.

Durst, the starting punter, was added to the competition on Sunday after Tuberville was displeased that Byrum missed another field goal in the West Virginia game. Byrum made 17-23 field goals last season, but his percentage of makes has dropped from 73.9 percent as a freshman to 57.1 percent as he has made 8-14 field goal tries and he also has a missed PAT.

Tuberville says the changes in practice are more than just a one week thing and points out the plan is for the Tigers to become more physical during game preparations the rest of the season. He says that the Tigers plan to devote 40 to 50 minutes of their practices to live work with the first team offense going against the first defense and the second team defense going against the number two offense.

As his Tigers prepare for a 4-4 Ole Miss team, Tuberville isn't calling this week's contest a "must win," but he says he is taking the attitude that the Tigers must improve every day in practice.

His team's next chance to do that will be on Wednesday evening and the Tigers will wrap up preparations for their fourth road trip of the season with a Thursday morning practice.

Burns says the Tigers are adding more plays to their game plan this week after cutting back in the wake of the changes made after offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was fired after the Vanderbilt game.

"We definitely are building it back up," he says.

Burns, who played an entire game for the first time in his college career last week, says, "We had stuff we could have run, but we just kind of stuck to the basics and ran those plays that we were real good at, but now since I think the coaches, as well as the players, have a sense we can get it done and we saw that in the first half of the West Virginia game that we can open it up a little more.

Burns notes that he did some good things and needs to improve this week after receiving a grade of 86 for his play last week. When Franklin was coordinator the quarterbacks did not get grades.

Commenting on what the Tigers can do to have more success throwing deep passes, Burns says, "I think we can open it up a little bit. I think the positive thing about what we did in the West Virginia game is we were somewhere around 50 percent on third downs for completion rate so if we can do that it is pretty good. I think we need to continue what we are doing and open it up a little more."

Defensively, the Tigers are expected to get sophomore end Antoine Carter back for this game, which is good news according to fellow end Antonio Coleman, who has been playing through some injuries in recent weeks.

Both Coleman and linebacker Chris Evans say that this week's opponent, Ole Miss, is an improved offensive team from last year so it will be important for the defense to step up and play better this week. Coleman says the Tigers need to regain their "swagger" on defense.

Evans says a key to success is to tackle better. The senior notes that he cracked a bone in a toe at an earlier practice, but will be ready to play this week.

Sen'Derrick Marks and the his teammates on defense are looking to rebound from their worst performance of the season at West Virginia.

Another defender who has been rehabbing an injury since the Vandy game, tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, says he is still continuing to get treatment on his ankle, but expects to be back to closer to full speed this week vs. the Rebels. "It's not full strength where it needs to be and I don't think I have been playing the way I should be playing," says Marks.

Kickoff for Saturday's game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is 11:30 a.m. and it will be regionally televised on Raycom Sports.

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