Kicking Duels Beginning To Take Shape

A freshman makes a move to take a starting job as the Tigers continued their preparations for Southern Cal with a workout in full pads.

Auburn, Ala.--For the first this fall there was a different number one kicker as John Vaughn worked with the first unit and did exactly what he's done all preseason, which is get the job done.

Drilling five of seven kicks, including a 45-yarder to get the team out of running wind sprints at the close of practice, Vaughn is currently the favorite to win the job as the Tigers head into preparations for the USC Trojans beginning Thursday.

"Today we kicked John Vaughn with the first team and he did a good job," Coach Tommy Tuberville said. "He and Philip (Philip Yost) are neck and neck. We'll see what happens the next few days. There is going to be some competition there."

Alternating kicks, both Vaughn and Yost were perfect inside 41-yards on their first four kicks, but both missed two from 45-yards heading into the final kick. That's when Vaughn came through to earn cheers from his teammates. Already this season, Vaughn has twice kept his teammates from running sprints at the end of practice by making beat-the-clock field goals. Tuesday was no different as he calmly booted the 45-yarder through the uprights.

Everything wasn't good on Tuesday as sophomore linebacker Kevis Burnam had surgery to repair a torn ACL and will be out for the remainder of the season. Expected to provide depth behind starter Dontarrious Thomas, his injury moves junior Mayo Sowell into the backup spot with Karlos Dansby capable of playing the position as well.

No news is still the word on freshman defensive end Stanley McClover. With Tuesday the last day he's allowed to practice with the team with classes beginning on Wednesday, he left the intramural fields and headed to the freshman dorms to move his things out and find another place to live until he gets word from the NCAA Clearinghouse. McClover and the Auburn coaching staff must decide whether he will enroll as a full-time or part-time student. Tuberville said there is a lot going on with this situation at the moment.

"If you start part-time you can always add some hours," Tuberville said. "If you start with 12 hours then it starts your clock. We'll have to make a decision on what we want to do with that."

One player who is ready to go to school full-time and could possibly be available to practice as early as October is Opelika's Tez Doolittle. After going through shoulder surgery earlier this summer, he has been immobilized and will begin rehab next week. He said he's anxious to get started and get back on the practice field as soon as possible.

Karibi Dede practices blocking punts as Coach Eddie Gran kicks a soccer ball in the air. The soccer ball is softer and allows the players to work on form without injuring fingers or hands in the process.

Much like the kicking job, the punting job is still up in the air as redshirt freshman Michael Gibson and true freshman Kody Bliss have been outstanding in fall practices. Described as "neck and neck" by Tuberville, the decision on who will be on the field against USC will likely come before Sunday.

Spending a great deal of time on all aspects of special teams Tuesday, Coach Eddie Gran ran his troops through the paces. Following a session of punt coverage that focused on downing punts inside the 10-yard line, the punt block team worked on getting to the ball without roughing the kicker. Both Tre Smith and Carnell Williams look to be the frontrunners for the kick return jobs to begin the year based on their performances this fall.

Offensively, Marcus McNeill returned to practice on Tuesday and looked good following a day off to rest his lower back. The same is true of Mark Pera, who was much better after the leaving the field Monday with a fever. The offensive line was back to full speed on Tuesday and it showed with several nice gains in both the passing game and running the ball against the first team defense.

Walk-on cornerback Kevin Hobbs is a player who has caught the eyes of the coaching staff with his play this fall.

With Dontarrious Thomas expected back on Thursday or Friday, Dansby worked at middle linebacker and strong side linebacker in Tuesday's practice and looked right at home in both spots. With both Carlos Rogers and Junior Rosegreen out of the afternoon practice to make sure they're ready to go on Thursday, the bulk of the work went to Montae Pitts and Lamel Ages. Coach Phillip Lolley said this has been a good fall overall for his players at cornerback.

"Moving Junior from safety to corner was a big deal because against USC you have to have some experienced guys in there from the get-go," Lolley said. "You can't match them up without experience. We know that Junior can always be a guy that swings both to safety and corner so our objective was to create depth. That depth, there is a lot of youth there, so how far we can bring those guys at this point we're still evaluating daily.

"Pitts has the speed and the height. Of course, the experience factor has him. Lamel Ages has a little more experience, but when you talk about matching Mike Williams up against him at 6-4 or 6-5 there are some things there match-up wise as coaches that we're going to have to hide and give him a chance.

"Also add to that, Gerald Williams has had a good camp. Kevin Hobbs has come on here, the last scrimmage he had a real good scrimmage. You're looking at six guys on the depth chart that we know can go into a game. Right now we have three corners that we know will play against USC. We would like to play four or five. We're one or two away from our objective right now and there's a heck of a battle going on."

Following 14-straight days of practices and 19 practices overall, the Tigers take a well deserved break on Wednesday to start classes for the fall. After the two hour plus practice that was pretty lively considering it was the last in a long line, Tuberville said he's pleased with where his team is heading into game week.

"This has been a good camp," Tuberville said. "The guys have done a good job. We've had some good practices and some not so good. We survived it and a lot of guys have pushed hard and gotten better. We're better than we were two weeks ago. We've got a lot of work to do in some areas."

The Tigers will take a day off Wednesday before resuming practice on Thursday on the practice fields behind the football complex. Practices will be closed to the public as Auburn begins preparations for the USC Trojans. Kickoff for the Aug. 30 game is scheduled for 5 p.m. and can be seen nationally on CBS television.

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