While continuing to install the game plan for the bowl in addition to working the younger players into the first and second team reps, the coaching staff worked the team hard on Tuesday with an extra-long running session to close the day. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said he was pleased with the effort of the team after a lackluster Monday practice.
Carlos Rogers (14) defends on a pass play at Tuesday's practice as Roderick Hood (36) runs a pass route.
"I thought today we practiced well," Chizik said. "We had a little bit of a snap today. Yesterday wasn't as crisp. Preparations are going well. The kids are working hard. We have two days left so we still have a lot to get done in the next two practices. We have two good work days left. We've made some progress. I think we'll be pretty much right on target before we go down there."
Gene Chizik gives instructions to the defensive backs at Tuesday's practice while (in the background) the linebackers drill with position coach Joe Whitt.
Defensively, the team had a good day flying to the football during 11-on-11 drills. Perhaps the best session of the three practices to this point occurred on Tuesday when junior college transfer Brandon Jacobs lined up at tailback against the first-team defense in live drills. Taking and delivering punishment with every run, the 6-4 1/2, 253-pound Jacobs gave the defense a taste of what it's going to be like when they face Penn State All-American Larry Johnson.
The repeated challenges by Jacobs got the defense fired up and they were as active as they've been all year in practice. Summing up the day in one play, running back Michael Owens took a toss sweep from quarterback Josh Sullivan and tried to head upfield. Waiting on him was a host of Tiger defenders led by safety Junior Rosegreen. Driving Owens to the ground for a three-yard loss, the horde of defenders jumped and shouted following the play, much to the delight of their defensive teammates, coaches and the onlookers at practice.
Health is one of the main reasons the defense is hitting on all cylinders in practices these days. After struggling through much of the regular season with injuries, defensive tackles Spencer Johnson and Demarco McNeil as well as linebackers Dontarrious Thomas and Karlos Dansby all appear to be close to 100 percent. That's good news for a defense that will have to be physical if the Tigers hope to contain a Penn State rushing attack that is one of the best in the country.
"Just seeing Spencer Johnson out there being able to go at 90 percent even," Chizik said, "that has been really good. Even Karlos Dansby at the end of the year, we had to watch him because he was hobbling around some. It's nice to see them all out there at full force right now."
Offensively, running back Ronnie Brown and fullback Brandon Johnson both were limited in their practice time Tuesday while continuing to recover from sprained ankles that kept them out of the Alabama game. Brown practiced nearly full speed on Monday but had some soreness in the ankle Tuesday that kept him from getting his usual number of repetitions. Johnson continues to be bothered by a high ankle sprain but ran on the sides during practice and is expected to be ready when the team gets to Orlando on Christmas night.
This practice time is especially important for some of the younger defensive players that are going to be counted on to provide depth next season and in the years to come. Linebacker Kevin Sears, defensive tackle Ben Grubbs and safeties Karibi Dede and Will Herring are just some of the players that have been the beneficiary of more reps in the first three days of practice.
"I think it's huge," Chizik said. "We try not to keep our starters in there all day and just beat them up, especially this early when you have to go down there and you still have another week. It's valuable to get the young guys reps in there, the reps they normally wouldn't get during a game week during the season. They are getting four or five days of reps that it's going to be good for them to get. They need that."
Facing one of the all-time legends in the sport of college football in Joe Paterno, Chizik said playing a team like Penn State on New Year's Day is what it's all about.
"Penn State is one of those teams when you look back over the history of college football in the last 15 or 20 years you have to always put Penn State up there with some of the best in the country," Chizik said. "When you say Penn State you put them up there with the Oklahoma's and Nebraskas. When you think of those type of teams you would like to play Penn State is it...Our kids are really focused about this game and excited about this game for that reason. I really believe that."
The Tigers will practice Wednesday and Thursday before breaking for the Christmas holidays. The team will assemble in Orlando on Christmas night and begin game week preparations for Penn State on Dec. 26. The practices this week are open to the public, but the ones in Orlando are not.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Former Auburn signee and current Butler County, Kna., Community College defensive back David Irons was on hand for Tuesday's practice along with his father David and a younger brother. Irons is expected to graduate this summer from Butler County and have three years remaining after redshirting his first season due to injury. There is a solid chance he could play for Auburn next fall and is also looking at South Carolina, where brother Kenny is a running back, and also Florida State right now...More 20 high school coaches from around the state attended Tuesday's practice to get a closer look at Auburn's coaching techniques and drills they use during the season.