Petrino Talks About Bowl Practice And Moving On

Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino talks about Brandon Johnson, practicing in Orlando and Coach Tommy Tuberville.

Orlando, Fla.--A key to Auburn's offense all season has been the blocking of the fullback. For most of the season that was Brandon Johnson, but an injury to his ankle in the Georgia game sidelined him for the Alabama game and most of the practices in Auburn leading up to Christmas.

However, time off has helped to heal Johnson and the junior said he feels like he will be close to 100 percent when the Tigers take on Penn State New Year's Day.

With his offense back to near full strength, departing offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino put his group through a fine-tuning workout Saturday as the Tigers practiced for nearly two hours on Thunder Field adjacent to the Citrus Bowl. Louisville's new head football coach said following the workout that he has been pleased with the way the Auburn team has responded since arriving in Orlando Christmas night.

Brandon Johnson is shown during Saturday's practice in Orlando.

"Practice has been going good," Petrino said. "It has been fun to be out there. It's probably the stress relief I need right now to be on the practice field working with the players. It's been fun. They are working hard. I think we'll be ready to go. Everyone is focused in and they're enjoying themselves, but when they've been on the practice field they are doing a good job."

Having two of his key weapons back is reason enough to smile for Petrino. In addition to Johnson, tailback Ronnie Brown is full speed and that combination made the Auburn offense click for the last half of the season.

"Ronnie is healthy and looking good," Petrino said. "Brandon is back and has done a great job. He's at full speed so he's worked real hard to get there. It's exciting to have those two guys back out. Pretty much we should be healthy across the board with what we played with at the end of the year.

"He must have worked real hard on it when we left," Petrino said of Johnson's ankle. "I was a little skeptical myself on how ready he would be to go. I knew he would be ready to play just because mentally he's tough enough to do that. He worked real hard and he's running real well out there. I'm very impressed. I think after today's practice when we cut it back and start shortening up what we're doing he should be real close to 100 percent by game time."

A key component to Auburn's offense, Johnson has been the unsung hero this season for the Tigers. A lead blocker as good as any in recent years to wear orange and blue, Johnson has won the respect of Petrino, who said Johnson is the true measure of a football player and is a key to Auburn's success against Penn State.

"I can't say enough about Brandon," Petrino noted. "He's as smart a football player as you can have on the team. He understands fronts and what we're doing in the running game and the passing game. He's just a great football player."

Defensively, the Tigers continued to polish up the game plan for the Nittany Lions by working against the scout team and also spending a good deal of time on tackling drills. Defensive end Jay Ratliff appears to be moving better while defensive tackle Tommy Jackson was practicing and looking close to full speed after suffering a strained groin muscle in practice before Christmas.

Kickoff for the Capital One Bowl is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST New Year's Day and can be seen on ABC. The Tigers are 0-1 all-time against the Nittany Lions after a 43-14 loss in the 1996 Outback Bowl.

Tiger Ticket Extra: Petrino took the time after Saturday practice to express his feelings for the Auburn program and in particular his head coach. Although he spent just one season on the Plains, it's clear that the Auburn program and community had an impact on his life.

"It's kind of a hard time for me because I'm going to really miss Auburn," Petrino notes. "It's been great with the tremendous year that we had. The people of Auburn have been tremendous, the boosters. I can't say enough about Coach (Tommy) Tuberville. I'm a better coach, I'm a better person and I'm a better father having worked for Tommy. I'm looking forward to Louisville, I'm excited about it and I'll be able to take a lot of experience with me, but I'll definitely miss Auburn.

"When I came to Auburn and started to work for Tommy I wanted to stay for at least three years and he wanted me to stay for three years. That was kind of what we talked about. There were some calls that came in this year on other head jobs throughout the country that I basically said no, I'm not interested. But this was a job that was something that I had always wanted. I had been there and know the city of Louisville and the boosters real well. When I first went in to talk to Tub to talk about it he said, ‘If you have an opportunity to take that job you have to pursue it.' It happened real fast and he was great. He's really a first class man."

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