Tigers Looking to Improve and Get Healthier

Comments from coaches and players are featured, with updates on injured Tigers, as Auburn continues its football preparations for Arkansas.

Auburn, Ala.--Gene Chizik said the pace of practice was better on Wednesday evening than on Tuesday as the Tigers continued their preparations for Saturday's game at Arkansas.

"I thought it was a really good practice," the Auburn head football coach said after the workout that lasted more than two hours. "The tempo was up, the focus was really good. We are going to have to play really well and execute much better than we have to beat this Arkansas team. They are a really good football team. We have got our work cut out for us."

Chizik said the Tigers have bounced back well after a late game last Saturday at Knoxville when the Tigers got home around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday and practiced later that day. "It was obviously a very quick turn-around, but they have really responded well. They are into it. They are focused. Practice has been as usual. Obviously, getting home that late can throw a wrench into things sometimes."

The Auburn head coach dodged answering a question about whether or not offensive guard Byron Isom would be back playing this week after missing the last two games with a suspension. "If you see him on the field right now, he will have done everything that he needs to do to be in an Auburn uniform."

Asked if Bart Eddins could get a second straight start at Isom's guard spot, Chizik said that is a possibility.

Bart Eddins, who made his first college start vs. Tennessee, notes he is glad the coaches have trusted him to fill in for Isom.

"The fact that the coaches had the faith in me to make my first start in an away game made it all that much more special," said Eddins, who was credited with a team-leading eight knockdown blocks vs. the Vols.

Eddins entered the season number two on the depth chart at center after making progress in preseason drills despite still not being full speed from a knee injury that has limited him the past year. However, it was not a problem for Eddins to move outside to guard because he worked at that position last year and has drilled there this season, too.

"Coach (Jeff) Grimes likes to rotate a lot of different players at different positions so I have gotten some reps out at left tackle and some at both left guard and right guard," Eddins points out. "It seems like Coach Grimes likes to have everybody available in case somebody goes down."

Bart Eddins

Commenting on this week's contest at Arkansas, Eddins said, "We have a bunch of guys from Arkansas who are really excited about playing this game," he said, adding that group is doing a good job of working on getting their teammates excited about the SEC West Division matchup.

Auburn heads to Fayetteville ranked fifth in the nation in scoring offense at 41.4 points per game and fifth in total offense at 512.8 yards per contest. Eddins claims the Tigers can do better.

"There is always room for improvement," he said. "We are at the point right now where we have had a bunch of good games, but we are trying to find the area where we can have a great game.

"We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times vs. Tennessee so we are using that as a learning experience," he adds. "It is always a better learning experience when you come out with a win."

Linebacker has been an area of the team where depth has been a problem. Spencer Pybus, a Freshman All-SEC linebacker last season, has yet to play this year due to a concussion and is not expected back this season. "Spencer right now, there are some medical issues, obviously," Chizik said. "We have had some in-depth talks. I won't go into the details of it at this point. The medical issues are still out there." One of those issues is if Pybus will ever be cleared to play football.

True freshman linebacker Harris Gaston, who has been bothered by injuries going back to preseason, is a "day by day thing," Chizik said. "We are going to have to play that by ear. That one could go either way. He is not going to play this week. We will see what happens as the weeks go on." Harris has played too much to qualify for a redshirt, the coach noted.

Chizik said depth at the linebacker position has been helped by the play of redshirt freshman Adam Herring, who has seen extensive action as a backup to Eltoro Freeman on the weakside and has also filled in at middle linebacker for Josh Bynes.

"He has been really huge," Chizik said of Herring, who played his junior and senior years of high school football in the Fayetteville area. "He will be excited to go home this week and play...He has helped our football team win games for sure. I am proud of him."

Herring has a chance to get a start this week, Chizik noted. Freeman, the regular starter, didn't have a tackle vs. Tennessee last week. "There have been some ups and downs there and we are trying to work through some of those ups and downs," Chizik said. "He just has to keep plugging along, he has got to keep coming along with us and getting new terminology, new everything, so he has just got to really keep trying to keep taking it to another level."

Chizik, who noted that depth at linebacker has been a major concern going back to the preseason, said that hasn't changed. He adds that walk-on Wade Christopher is a guy who could help. "He has really done a nice job for us."

*In other news and notes:

*Defensive end Antoine Carter's presence should help the Tigers in a game in which Auburn will need to have an effective pass rush against talented passer Ryan Mallett, who defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and safety coach Tommy Thigpen note has a very strong and accurate arm. Rocker said that Carter, who has missed most of the season with a knee problem, is probably a week or so away from being back to full speed.

*Another defensive end, true freshman Nosa Eguae, has not been cleared to practice, but is making strides, Rocker notes. No decision has been made yet on whether or not Eguae will play or redshirt this season. He has not seen game action yet after injuring an ankle just prior to the opener.

Mike McNeil

*Safety Mike McNeil is making a lot of progress in practice, but isn't ready for game action yet, Thigpen said on Wednesday night. The defensive backs coach said he has seen significant improvement from the returning starter in recent weeks. McNeil is recovering form a broken bone in his leg.

*Chizik said the Auburn coaches emphasize to their players being careful about not getting celebration penalties, something that has been a major topic of conversation after a controversial call in last Saturday's LSU at Georgia game.

*Auburn leads the series vs. Arkansas 10-7-1 and is 5-3 all-time in games played in Fayetteville. Arkansas won last year's contest 25-22 in Auburn. The Tigers have won on their last three trips to Arkansas.

*In last year's loss to the Razorbacks, the Tigers managed just 11 first downs, 56 rushing yards on 33 carries and 137 passing yards.

*With an average of 11.0 points per game, junior kicker Wes Byrum is ninth nationally in scoring.

*With his average of 2.0 field goal makes per game, Byrum is sixth nationally in that statistic.

*Last season the Tigers were ranked 20th when Arkansas defeated Auburn. That knocked Auburn out of the polls for the rest of the season and the Tigers didn't appear in the Top 25 until this week coming in at 17th in AP and 19th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Last season Coach Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks had two wins over ranked the teams. The other one came against Tulsa, which featured current Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahan as the offensive coordinator. The Golden Hurricane was ranked 19th going into that contest.

*Auburn's players are expecting a lot of passes this week from six-foot-seven-inch quarterback Ryan Mallett. Going back to Petrino's arrival last season, the Razorbacks have passed for 300 or more yards six times. In the previous history of the program there were only 16 games with that many passing yards.

*Chizik said he still hasn't decided on who the punt returner will be this week. Anthony Gulley, who started the Tennessee game at that spot, is in the mix along with Philip Pierre-Louis, who was the backup against the Vols. Special teams coach Jay Boulware said on Wednesday night that Pierre-Louis needs to improve to become the starter at the position.

*Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CDT with television coverage on ESPN.

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