Linebacker Injuries Piling Up For Tigers

Auburn lost two starting linebackers for the rest of the spring as the focus now turns on getting the young players more work in preparation for the A-Day game on March 19.

Auburn, Ala.–-Injuries were the story of the day for the Auburn Tigers as they resumed spring practice on Tuesday after taking both Sunday and Monday off following Saturday's scrimmage. Starting linebackers Travis Williams and Kevin Sears were injured in the scrimmage and Coach Tommy Tuberville said both will miss the rest of spring practice to make sure they're ready for two-a-days in August.

"It was a good day with a lot of contact," Tuberville said of Tuesday's practice. "We're missing a few guys. Kevin Sears had his hand operated on and he's out for the rest of the spring with a broken thumb. He'll be all right. It was good that we got five practices, but you hate to see a guy that was getting better go down with that injury. Travis Williams is out for the rest of the spring, he's got a sprained ankle. Even if he made it back we wouldn't work him. We know what he can do and he knows everything we do."

With both players out the rest of the spring and fellow starter Antarrious Williams saddled with a club on his hand following surgery last fall, the Tiger linebacking corps is suddenly very young. Karibi Dede and Kevis Burnam are the most experienced of the players on the field now with freshmen Chris Evans, Merrill Johnson and Courtney Harden now getting the bulk of the reps. Tuberville said that's not a bad thing as it gives them a chance to improve before next fall.

"It's pretty unusual, but that's part of the game," Tuberville said about not having any starters practicing this spring. "That's the reason you've got to have depth. These young guys are going to get thrown into the fire. We've actually not had enough reps during practice to get everybody enough reps. It's not like they missed all of it, they missed half of it. Now we'll go on and see if we can build some depth."

Will Herring goes up high for an interception during Tuesday's practice.

Several players missed Tuesday's practice with a virus that is going around the team. Also Evans missed some of the contact work after suffering a burner during Saturday's scrimmage. First-team quarterback Brandon Cox dislocated a finger during Saturday's scrimmage and had a touch of the virus, but practiced anyway on Tuesday.

Working on correcting mistakes from Saturday's scrimmage, the Tigers practiced for just over two hours Tuesday and spent a great deal of time in team situations. Working the first, second and third units, Auburn's coaches got a chance to see players in scrimmage-type situations and Cox continued to throw the ball well. Also having a better day was Calvin Booker, who struggled at times on Saturday. Tuberville said the day was one where the team got better and he's especially pleased with the improvement up front on defense.

"We continue to work on our blitz package on defense and on offense," Tuberville said. "I think that's the biggest thing for quarterbacks to see. The defense continues to get better. I'm real encouraged by how we're practicing on both sides of the ball, especially with our defensive line. I think we've made a lot of progress in six days, especially the young guys. We've got a lot of young guys trying to make the team and this is when you make it. We've got a lot of competition going on."

A continued problem on the offense has been the center-quarterback exchange with sophomore Leon Hart working at center for the first time. Because of that offensive line coach Hugh Nall said on Tuesday that he might make a change and give junior Jonathan Palmer some time at center to see if he can get the job done.

"I'll probably make a move there and take Leon out of center," Nall said. "Right now I'm going to try JP there. That's just a lot to learn. Evidently I haven't done a good enough job of schooling him up. He probably doesn't have a good enough knowledge for all the blocking schemes. It takes a little bit older guy sometimes, like a (Jeremy) Ingle that has been around for a while."

While there were some problems on the line, there were also some bright spots as guard Tim Duckworth was a road grader on Tuesday and was dominating at the point of attack. Also playing well was redshirt freshman tackle Antwoin Daniels, who has grown into a man overnight and is playing great for the second team offense.

There were several highlights in the team portion of the practice as safeties Will Herring and Eric Brock both received several compliments from coach David Gibbs for their play. Herring made an acrobatic interception for one of the big plays while running backs Tre Smith, Carl Stewart and Kenny Irons all made big plays as receivers out of the backfield.

The team will practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before Saturday's second spring scrimmage. Thursday's practice will be in shorts and helmets as Auburn has to meet the requirements for non full pad practices. Friday and Saturday all of the SEC football officials will be in town to work the scrimmage and practice. As part of their training they travel to a different school each year and this year is Auburn's turn.

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