Sept. 29, 2013
Craig Sanders is back at practice and is expected to play against Ole Miss
AUBURN, Ala. - For Ellis Johnson, Auburn's first-year defensive coordinator, a week without a game was welcomed.
It was valuable because it offered an opportunity for self-evaluation. It was valuable because younger players got some extra work. It was valuable because there was extra time to work on stopping the big plays that have, at times, plagued the Tigers' defense. It was valuable because there was extra time to prepare for Saturday's game between Auburn (3-1, 1-1) and No. 24 Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1) at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
But mostly it was valuable because injured players returned to practice.
Cornerback Chris Davis (leg), defensive end Craig Sanders (ankle) and cornerback Jonathan Jones (leg) returned to the practice field. Linebacker Justin Garrett practiced but continues to deal with a sore foot.
All, Johnson said, are day-to-day.
"At least they are out there getting a few reps," Johnson said. "Just about all of them are doing something, but a lot of them have limited contact and drills they don't want them doing."
Garrett's injury kept him out of the first two games and limited his snaps in the past two games. And it is the most puzzling.
"He's doing OK," Johnson said. "His foot is bothering him, but they can't find anything that is severe. There is just a lot of pain that he's having to play through right now."
Johnson said potential lineup changes will depend on the progress those players make in practice.
"If any of those guys have a great week of practice," Johnson said, "it could shuffle some things."
After taking on a power offense in a 35-21 loss at LSU, the Tigers must now deal with second-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze's version of the hurryup, no-huddle.
"A lot of speed," Johnson said. "I'm talking about physical speed and speed of operation. They do an absolutely fantastic job of executing their offense. They may do as good a job of executing their offense as anybody we've watched. They are really good in their system.
"Coach Freeze knows what he needs to go to when you take something away. It doesn't take two or three plays. It's immediate. It's a huge challenge. The big thing they've been able to do is get their athletes in space with the ball. A lot of times it's execution. Other times, it's checking plays and getting you in a disadvantage defense. We really have to be on our toes."
After beating Vanderbilt 39-35, Southeast Missouri 31-13 and Texas 44-23, Ole Miss lost 25-0 at No. 1 Alabama last Saturday. Three times, the Rebels passed up field goal opportunities and were stopped on fourth down.
"Alabama is certainly talented," Johnson said. "I thought they did a good job. They saw them last year. Ole Miss had their chances and just couldn't capitalize. They moved the ball. They just couldn't get the points."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: