AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn's players returned to the practice field Sunday night for their first full-scale workout since last Thursday. It was a welcome break.
"You hope that just mentally as well as physically that it was a good time to escape away from all this craziness here for a day and a half or so," coach Gene Chizik said. "I think it'll be big. I think, again, it came at a time where we could use it."
Chizik gave the players Monday and Tuesday off during the team's bye last week. After Wednesday and Thursday practices, the Tigers had a brief walkthrough Friday before getting Saturday off.
"A lot of guys have fresh legs today and that's something we haven't had in a while," right tackle Andrew McCain said. "I think that's really important to have that bye week, not so much for scheme reasons, which always helps to get a jumpstart, but just to be rested is a big help."
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Auburn has the added bonus of not having class this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
"Obviously, it's somewhat of an advantage simply because they don't have a lot of other things on their mind as far as going to class and things of that nature," Chizik said. "They can really spend a lot of their own free time voluntarily coming in and looking at stuff and spending more time preparing for the game."
Despite the extra available time, Chizik is trying to keep this week's schedule as normal as possible.
"I'm not a guy that likes to vary off the things that we've done," he said. "We feel good about our preparation and how we do it. We're at a point in the year where there's not anything new you're going to do. We've been doing it now going on 12 weeks. We're more concerned with doing what we do and not deviating from that."
Auburn hoped to see linebacker Eltoro Freeman at practice Sunday after the sophomore missed all of last week's workouts with a right ankle injury and a concussion he suffered during the Georgia game. From the sounds of it, he still wasn't full bore.
"He took some mental reps today," said defensive coordinator Ted Roof, without getting much more specific. "Got some good mental reps. Moving forward."
Chizik said the weekend off helped the sophomore recuperate from his ailments but added that it was still too early to know if he'll be ready for Friday's game, something that probably won't change as the week progresses.
"Again, that's going to be day-by-day," Chizik said. "And I'm going to say you're going to ask me that question again and it's going to be the same answer for about four days and it won't change until gametime."
Freeman, who wore a protective boot on his right foot last week, did not have the boot on Sunday. In the five games since he returned to the team following a brief leave for personal reasons, he has 23 tackles.
Odd reunionJames Willis helped recruit a large number of players currently on Auburn's roster, so it will be an odd reunion for them to see the linebackers coach on the Alabama sideline Friday.
Willis, who was briefly the lone holdover on Gene Chizik's staff from Tommy Tuberville's tenure, left for Alabama and an associate head coach title in January.
It was an unusual move in a state with strong team allegiances, especially for someone who played at Auburn from 1990-92 and coached on the Plains for a total of six seasons, first as a graduate assistant, later as a linebackers coach.
"He's got to do something for his family," Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said. "Of course in this state, that's a big thing to do, going to Alabama. That's something they take hard. But he had to do what he had to do to take care of his family. But ultimately he's not the matter right now."