Tuberville Says Healthy Tigers Ready To Play

Carl Stewart

Auburn is wrapping up work on the gameplan for Georgia Tech with just one practice left before Saturday's opener.

Auburn, Ala.–-Continuing preparations for Saturday night's season opener on ESPN against Georgia Tech, the Auburn Tigers practiced for just under two hours Wednesday in shorts and helmets. Coach Tommy Tuberville said that while he had hoped to get into the stadium for another dry run in game conditions, that wasn't possible because of a rain storm that hit the campus just before the practice began.

"We were going to go into the stadium for about 30 minutes today, but the field was just too wet because of the rain we had today," Tuberville said. "We're going to try to do it tomorrow. We've still got to go through a game day act one and act two just getting everything together and make sure everyone knows where to go.

"It's been good," he said of this week's practices. "We need to play awfully bad, but Saturday is only going to get here the same speed it always does, awfully slow. Our guys are fired up and looking forward to it. We're healthy. You just don't want to play the game too quickly, we're not talking a lot about it. Tomorrow we'll pick up the talk about mentally preparing and start getting everything down to what you really want to be concerned about heading into the game."

Something that has been tough to deal with this week is the lingering effects on Hurricane Katrina within the Auburn team. Defensive end Alonzo Horton lost an aunt in the storm and still has several family members he can't contact. The same is true of defensive lineman Rudy Odom as well as linebacker Patrick Trahan. Tuberville said right now it's very tough on the players not knowing what's happening.

"Their frame of mind is good, but we've still got some concerns with some players' family down in New Orleans," Tuberville said. "It's a tough time. Some people are still missing. That's not going to change. Nobody is getting out of there, much less anybody having a chance for anybody to get in and find out what's going on. We're just kind of waiting around to see if there's any word."

During this time the job of Chette Williams becomes even more valuable to the Auburn program. A spiritual leader for the team, Williams has been available for the players in their time of need, something that Tuberville said has been very big for the kids.

"He's very valuable," Tuberville said. "He spent most of the day with Alonzo that day because he's so far away and there's nothing he can do. It's not like a car wreck or an accident. This has happened and there's still no word from his father. You're kind of helpless and you watch tv and it makes it worse because there's nothing going on there either. They're trying to keep the water from getting higher. It's a tough deal and those folks down there are in for a long haul."

Tuberville said that he hopes the SEC, NCAA or even individual schools will do something in the coming days and weeks to stimulate some help through the Red Cross in terms of a monetary statement to help ease the suffering along the Gulf Coast.

Linebacker Merrill Johnson is back practicing, but likely won't return until the Mississippi State game.

While it was thought that the Tigers would play several of the talented true freshmen this season, it turns out that might not be the case. In addition to kickoff man Zach Kutch, a sure bet to play is wide receiver Robert Dunn, who has been impressive both on offense and returning kicks. After that there's not another guarantee although Tommy Trott, Sen'Derrick Marks and Tray Blackmon are learning the gameplan for this week. Tuberville said they would like to keep from playing the freshmen unless they have a major part in the gameplan.

That means that at linebacker the Tigers will likely play just four players with starters Travis Williams, Antarrious Williams and Karibi Dede backed up by Kevin Sears. When Sears is on the field on the strong side Dede could play the weak side or even in the middle if needed. True freshman Chris Evans is also a possibility because he's currently second-team at middle linebacker. Redshirt freshman Merrill Johnson, who dislocated his elbow during a preseason scrimmage, is practicing once again and should return for the Mississippi State game.

Saturday night the running game will be a key to success for the Auburn offense and one of the important players for the Tigers is sophomore running back Carl Stewart. The back-up to starter Tre Smith and first-team at the "F" position, a spot created for Ronnie Brown last season, Stewart should get plenty of opportunities to show how much he's improved since 2004 and he said that he can't wait to get it started.

"I can't explain how long I have been waiting for this week to come and it's finally here," Stewart said. "It seems like time has started to slow down for Saturday, but I'm really excited."

With a new quarterback in Brandon Cox and both Brown and Carnell Williams gone, the Tigers have spent much of the spring and two-a-days searching for a new identity on offense. Although it's yet to have been proven in a game, Stewart said that he feels like this unit is ready to do some good things beginning this Saturday night against Georgia Tech.

"We're finally building as a team," Stewart said. "At first everybody was out there working on their own technique and individual weaknesses trying to get everything better. As those things started to progress we all came together as a team. Now we've got some unity going."

Thursday the Tigers will have a short walk-through to put the finishing touches on the gameplan for the Yellow Jackets. It will be the end of an easy week of work for the team after a long and drawn out preseason that lasted for almost a full month. Stewart said that easing back on practices was exactly what this team needed to be ready for opening day.

"Two-a-days really wore everybody out," Stewart said. "Now we're starting to get our legs back under us and we're starting to work on technique and mental preparation. That has really been a key for us."

Kickoff for Saturday night's game is scheduled for 7:45 and will be shown live on ESPN. Auburn enters the game ranked 16th by the Associated Press and 15th by USA Today. Georgia Tech is unranked.

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