Thursday will be an important day for the Tigers, as the team will get a better idea of whether starting quarterback Rohan Davey will be available for Saturday's game at Kentucky. On Wednesday, Davey took about 75 percent of the repetitions he normally takes in a practice. He is currently at 80 percent, says Saban, after suffering a bruised patellar tendon against Florida.
"One of two things is going to happen," Saban said regarding Davey. "He's going to get a lot better for the work he did today, or he's going to continue to have significant problems from overdoing it today."
Matt Mauck replaced Davey against the Gators and suffered a foot injury later in the game. He is expected to start if Davey is not available.
Saban said he has been pleased with the way his team has responded following its 44-15 lost to Florida. The last two practice sessions have been productive, in his estimation, and have allowed the Tigers to work on their weaknesses.
Kentucky is 1-4 on the season with an 0-3 record in Southeastern Conference games, but Saban is taking a guarded approach to facing the Wildcats. He believes coach Guy Morriss' team is capable of improving from its last performance, a 42-6 loss to South Carolina.
"I think this is the most dangerous game we play to this point in the season," Saban said. "We're playing on the road, which is a real challenge for us – anytime you play in the SEC anywhere on the road. We're playing a team with an outstanding athlete at quarterback who can make a lot of big plays."
One Kentucky player Saban said concerns him is quarterback Shane Boyd, a redshirt freshman who has wrestled the starting job from incumbent Jared Lorenzen. The Wildcats have, on occasion, been able to take advantage of Boyd's mobility through draw plays and a shuffle pass option. And when plays fail to develop, Boyd can still make something out of nothing.
"He really does a good job of executing their offense," said Saban. "But if you make a mistake in the pass rush lane and he has a chance to step up into an opening, he can really make you pay for it."
Getting a pass rush on Boyd will be crucial, Saban indicated, and the Tigers will need four healthy players on the defensive line to execute one. Designated pash rusher Jeremy Lawrence has been hampered by an ankle problem and has not been as effective in his role, according to Saban. Rushing any more than four players is "robbing Peter to pay Paul" in Saban's opinion since there will be fewer players in coverage.
The lack of consistent pass coverage is one area Saban wants to see dramatic improvement in this week, since the secondary has been victimized by big plays from the onset of the season. The Tigers' rushing game has been stagnant over the past two weeks, and Saban said he hopes to see more production from that aspect of his offense.
The success of the ground game will depend on how well the Tigers adjust to the absence of right guard Dwayne Pierce, who is out for the Kentucky game with an ankle injury. In Wednesday's practice, coaches used Rob Sale and Ben Wilkerson interchangeably at center and right guard. Terry Phillips was also moved in from tackle to provide depth, and John Young, who saw considerable playing time against Florida following Pierce's injury, is also an option.
Saban said he wanted to look at Wednesday's practice videotape before making a decision on what personnel group he would use against Kentucky.
"Ben might not be ready to go in there and handle the whole situation," said Saban. "But if Rob is playing next door to him and can help him with some of the calls, that could be beneficial."
INJURY UPDATE: In addition to Pierce, cornerback Robert Davis will miss Saturday's game against Kentucky. Saban said it is very likely that Davis, a fifth-year senior, could be done for the season, especially if he decides to have surgery on the ACL he injured against Utah State. Asked whether Davis would be eligible for a sixth year of eligibility due to medical hardship, Saban said he would fight for the exemption if Davis wanted it but did not think it would be awarded to him. The guideline the NCAA uses for a sixth year comes down to whether the year missed was through the fault of the player. Non-participation, said Saban, is not viewed as through no fault of the player.
Running back Devery Henderson (ankle) and cornerback Norman LeJeune (neck) are also out for the Kentucky game. Henderson has not practice all week, and his absence means there is a chance true freshman running back Joseph Addai could see playing time.
LeJeune has practiced all week but has been held out of contact drills. Team doctors still have not cleared him for full participation since he continues to experience pain from contact.
With LeJeune not available at corner, sophomore Randall Gay and true freshman Travis Daniels are the only options left for Saban at cornerback. Derron Parquet, Ryan Gilbert and Corey Webster have worked with the secondary, but they are weeks away from being able to contribute.
Webster is now back working with receivers full time due to Jack Hunt's abdominal strain. Hunt, who missed the Florida game, is questionable for the Kentucky game, and Parquet is likely to go back to running back because of Henderson's injury. Gilbert has shown the most promise at corner, said Saban, and could potentially help the team since he's not currently being used at another position.
Saban said he would take the redshirt off Daniels and Gilbert if the Tigers' injury situation demanded it. The same would apply on offensive line, he said, if it became necessary to play Andrew Whitworth.