Running Back Situation Looking Better For Tigers

The Auburn football Tigers are working out the kinks as they returned to the practice field in preparations for their New Year's Day bowl game.

Orlando, Fla.--Auburn is back to having two full speed tailbacks with the return of Ronnie Brown to his old form.

The sophomore from Cartersville, Ga., who missed Auburn's regular season finale with a severely sprained ankle, looked to be full speed on Thursday as the Tigers had their first practice at the bowl site.

Brandon Johnson

Brown wasn't the only injured running back taking part in the two-hour workout. Starting fullback Brandon Johnson, who also missed the victory over Alabama with a severely sprained ankle, returned to practice and is ready to play. Cooper Wallace, who filled in for Johnson, is continuing to get work at the fullback position as well as tight end.

Brown, a second team All-SEC pick, rushed for 824 yards and 11 touchdowns while starting five games and playing in 11. The 6-1, 217-pound redshirt sophomore is expected to share the tailback duties with true freshman Tre Smith, who started three games and rushed for 444 yards on 74 carries and scored three touchdowns.

Ronnie Brown

Carnell "Cadillac" Williams is still recovering from a broken bone in his leg suffered in the Florida game. He did not practice on Thursday and will not be available for action until spring training in March. Williams rushed for 745 yards and 10 touchdowns on 141 carries with seven starts.

Following a week away from team workouts, the Tigers returned to the football practice field with a two-hour workout in full pads at Thunder Field that Coach Tommy Tuberville described as "sloppy." Following the workout, the Tigers boarded buses and headed for Disney World where they will spend the evening.

Ronnie Brown runs at bowl practice in Orlando.

The Tigers will have four more practices to get ready for their New Year's Day bowl game against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Capital One Bowl will kick off at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium at noon CST on New Year's Day with TV coverage on ABC.

"It was a good day of work and it was good to get back out and go through the motions again," Tuberville said. "We have got all of the game plan in except for a few things, including short yardage and long yardage situations on both sides of the ball. We will have those things in by tomorrow and we will polish up on the game plan the rest of the week." The contest will be the final one in which offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino calls the plays. He will assume duties as head coach of the Louisville Cardinals following Auburn's bowl game.

The Tigers worked out six days in Auburn before breaking for the holidays. Prior to that the team had a three-week layoff after beating Alabama, however, players did participate in weight training workouts and conditioning runs.

After reporting to Orlando on Christmas Day, the players joined the coaching staff and their families at Epcot Center on Christmas night for a group dinner. The players traveled to Orlando on their own and were given mileage expense allowances based on where their hometowns are.

"The players are excited about the weather and being here at the bowl game," Tuberville said after practice with temperatures in the 60s. "Last night we went to Epcot Center. Today we will go to the Magic Kingdom and have a photo session with the team. We will take a group shot and then let the players take pictures with their friends so that they can have a lasting memory. We didn't do that the last time we were here and that is one thing I wish we would have done."

Penn State arrived in Orlando a day earlier after practicing in St. Petersburg. The Nittany Lions will offer a major challenge, says Tiger strong safety Junior Rosegreen. "Larry Johnson won a lot of awards this year and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy," Rosegreen says. "He is a great tailback who is going to challenge us on defense. It is important that we do a good job against him. From watching him on film, I am impressed with what I have seen."

Junior Rosegreen

Rosegreen says the Tigers are in good shape physically on defense and should be ready to play one of their better defensive games on New Year's Day.

Freshman defensive lineman T.J. Jackson says that the Tigers are excited about being in Orlando. "This is a great bowl trip so you have to be excited," he says. "This is a great opportunity for us to start 2003 in a great way if we can beat a Top 10 team like Penn State. It is a wonderful matchup for us playing against Penn State and Orlando is a fun place to go to a bowl game."

Jackson, Rosegreen and the rest of the Tigers will participate in the Tiger Walk at 9:45 a.m. CST (10:45 a.m. local time) on New Year's Day outside Gate C at the corner of Rio Grande and South Street on the east side of the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.

Auburn is 0-1 all-time in football games vs. Penn State, which brings a high-powered offense to Orlando. Coach Joe Paterno's team is averaging 36.4 points and 436.7 yards per game. Auburn is 14-12-1 all-time in bowl matchups and is 2-1 in bowl games played in Orlando.

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