A "Good Day" For Tigers As Opener Nears

Coach Gene Chizik talks about his team as the Tigers get ready for Louisiana Tech on Saturday night.

Auburn, Ala.--Despite a light rain that fell for much of the two-hour practice on Wednesday, the Auburn Tigers had a solid day of work in shells according to Coach Gene Chizik. With only a polishing day left before kickoff, Chizik said he was happy with the way his team worked.

"Today I thought was a very good day," Chizik said. "We're getting closer and I think they're more focused than they were a week ago. It was a really good practice with really good tempo. Pretty much all of the work has been done. We'll have one more polishing up day, which is tomorrow, and then we'll see what happens."

After a long preseason the Tigers have started to back off the contact practices this week as game time draws closer. While it hasn't completely gone away, Chizik said they're trying to be smart about how they approach the opening week.

"We've kind of teetered that fine line between having too much contact and not enough," Chizik said. "Did we kind of trail off on it, not necessarily. We've just tried to pick and choose our spots where we tried to go good on good and best versus best."

One of the positions that will get a good bit of attention Saturday night is the offensive line. Coach Jeff Grimes said at the moment he's planning on playing just his starting five if the game should remain a tight contest throughout. He said the top three guys off the bench right now would be junior Bart Eddins, sophomore Vance Smith and true freshman John Sullen and where and when they could see action would depend on the situation.

Defensive line Coach Tracy Rocker said he's not sure if he's living a dream, but it's something special. He said he's looking forward to Saturday and it's not as much his excitement, but the players he's concerned about. He noted it will be his first chance to be on the home sidelines since he left as a player in 1988.

Like pretty much every other position coach for the Tigers, Rocker will have his share of young and inexperienced players on the field Saturday night with true freshmen Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae in the rotation as well as junior college transfer Nick Fairley. With so many young guys expected to see playing time, Chizik said they've tried hard all preseason to make sure guys are ready for the speed of the game on this level.

"In practice they are relaxed," Chizik said. "They know who they're going against and they know what speed he is. I think for the younger guys the speed of the game will be a little bit of a surprise early. There's just a lot of moving parts and until they get on the field and the game slows down it's going to be a little bit of a problem."

With everything now in and only some minor details left to go over, the focus turns to Saturday and how things will turn out. With a defense lacking depth and an offense that likes to force the issue with tempo, you have the recipe for a tough night if the offense isn't clicking. Chizik said it's something they have considered and it's just something they'll have to deal with if it happens.

"We've talked in-depth about that and how we're going to manage the game," Chizik said. "Really it's all going to come down to game management. If we've been out there and the defense has just come off a 12, 13, 14-play drive then we've got to be very sensitive to that. Obviously the name of the game is to make first downs and touchdowns. We're certainly going to be aware of the whole team function, the whole status of our team on defense, offense and special teams because so many of those guys will be on special teams as well. We've just got to be smart on how we manage the whole game."

The Tigers will return to action Thursday afternoon for the final tune-up before Saturday's 6 p.m. kickoff against Louisiana Tech. Friday the team will head out of town before returning to campus Saturday afternoon.

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