Etheridge, one of the standouts of the defense the past two seasons, has been recuperating and rehabbing since the Ole Miss game last year from a serious neck and spine injury that threatened to end his football career.
Following Friday night's Auburn practice he said, "I am going to tomorrow...I?am looking forward to it."
The senior said he isn't nervous about the prospect of hitting somebody or getting hit and he plans to smack the first person who gets in his way.
Etheridge said he hasn't been frustrated having to watch the previous scrimmages from the sidelines. "The medical staff, they had a plan. I knew before going into camp we had a plan to work and we have just been following it. It's time here to do the contact part of it."
Etheridge had to wear a neck brace during his rehab.
Etheridge will be competing for a starting spot at strong safety with Aairon Savage, another player who is coming back from an injury. Savage, who had a torn Achilles last season, has missed the past two seasons.
Etheridge noted that he had some light contact work in practice the past couple of weeks, but his first major hitting will take place on Saturday.
The offense worked on execution of plays on Friday evening while the defense focused on assignments as the Tigers practiced for two hours in a tune-up for their fourth football scrimmage of the preseason.
The Tigers are scheduled to take the field on Saturday morning in what could be the final scrimmage opportunity for Auburn's 30 new scholarship players to impress the coaching staff and convince them they will be ready for prime-time action on Saturday, Sept. 4th when Coach Gene Chizik's Tigers open the season vs. visiting Arkansas State from the Sun Belt Conference.
Following the practice in helmets and shorts, assistant head coach Trooper Taylor said the Tigers had a good workout "It was really good, upbeat. We really concentrated on alignments and assignments. We're starting to put the Arkansas State plan in, too.
"It is good to see the guys recall some of the stuff we had talked about early and then we had a great special teams workout," Taylor said. "We had guys flying around.."
The Auburn coaches are trying to decide who will play on special teams. At punt returner Quindarius Carr, Darvin Adams, Trovon Reed and Jonathon Mincy are the leading candidates to win that assignment.
Taylor said those players will get a chance to show what they can do in the scrimmage on Saturday with the coverage teams free to hit them like in a game situation. "We need to get as much live work as possible," he said. "We need to see who can make a play."
One of the strengths of the 2009 team was Demond Washington's ability to return to kickoffs. The defensive back took one the distance for six points at Georgia and he is looking to repeat the feat as a senior.
"I am looking forward to the kickoffs and hopefully I will get a chance for punt returns and will be able to do that to the best of my ability," the senior says.
Washington says he isn't sure who will be the other twin deep back with him on returns this year. He points out that the coaches were looking at 15 guys for that assignment. "We have narrowed it down, but there are still 10 guys there," he says.
Special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said that sophomore Onterio McCalebb has a good chance to join Washington as the other deep back on kickoff returns. He said that Mario Fannin and Reed are getting looks, too.
Washington said from what he has seen in practice the Tigers will be improved on defense because there is more talent and depth on his side of the line of the scrimmage.
Another senior who is a returning starter on defense, middle linebacker Josh Bynes, agrees with Washington and said it will be a plus to have more options as backups at the linebacker spots and other positions on defense. "The young guys are continuing to make progress,"?he said. "It is important that the older guys continue to help them along and have confidence in them that when they are out there that they can do the job."
One of the key returnees on offense is tailback McCalebb. "I am full with no injuries," he said. "I think I have everything down pat.
"Our offense is coming along pretty good," he added. "We are starting to feel what our offense is about, which is making big plays. That is what we do."
At this time last year McCalebb was preparing for his first college game and said that contest was an "incredible" experience to play in front of a big crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time. He said that from the Tiger Walk and going into the stadium he got "that chill" in his body, but once the game started he was fine.
Commenting on how prepared he is to play for the 2010 opener compared to last year, McCalebb said, "I think I have improved a lot" The tailback said he believes he is faster, stronger and does a better job of reading his blocks.
Like many of the other players, 6-0, 288-pound freshman running back is a subject of interest to McCalebb."He is so big, nobody wants to get in his way," said McCalebb, who noted that fullback is making progress in practice.
In other news:
*Taylor said he is hoping that sophomore receiver DeAngelo Benton (cracked bone in his finger) may be able to return in time for the season opener. The coach said that Benton appears to be doing a good job of learning his assignments while being held out of practice.
"I really have to give a lot of credit to Derek Winter," Taylor said. "If he had practiced the same way when we first got here as he is doing now he would have had a lot more playing time because he is earned.
"I don't know if it was because of the coaching change, or whatever the reason was, the bottom line was he wasn't doing it. Now he sees has got do it our way and he is doing that. He has busted his tail and he has made some plays, some nice plays, and he does a great job of blocking on the perimeter."
Taylor predicted the perimeter blocking from the wide receivers will be "100 percent" better in 2010 vs. 2009.