Banged Up Irons And Tigers Back To Work

Auburn tailback Kenny Irons talks about playing through injuries and the one-two punch with Brad Lester.

Auburn, Ala.--Fresh off a 27-17 win over second-ranked Florida the Auburn Tigers (6-1, 4-1) got back to work on Sunday with a short practice in shorts and shoulder pads focusing on correcting mistakes from Saturday night's victory. With several players banged up the veterans practiced for just 45 minutes before turning things over to the younger players for a full pad workout the final half of practice.

One of the players that fought through his injury on Sunday was running back Kenny Irons. Already suffering from a turf toe that hampered his ability to cut, Irons sprained his right ankle early in the contest and once again was less than 100 percent. Even with the injuries Irons fought through the pain and played well for the Tigers. He says that's something you have to get used to as a veteran although he wishes he didn't have to fight that particular battle each week.

"You know injuries are going to come as you become more of a target," Irons says. "Guys come at you because you're a key guy they have to stop, you're a marked player. You become more of a target. It's just like this football team. When you're ranked high you're a target for teams to try to beat you."

Irons rumbles for positive yardage against the Gators.

With Irons not at full speed the ball instead went to Brad Lester and the sophomore responded with 94 yards on 17 carries. Following the lead of Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown from the 2004 season, Irons says both he and Lester have become more determined to make the 1-2 punch something teams have to respect each week.

"It's something we're trying to do so that no matter what happens they have to say ‘we have to stop this guy and we have to stop this guy,'" Irons says. "I want Brad to get warmed up so when I come out we can just say bam so we're not missing a beat or a step."

The duo was an effective weapon for the Tigers Saturday night as the offense controlled the ball against a Florida defense that came into the game leading the league in rushing yards allowed. Irons says that a performance like that gives the offense confidence heading into the home stretch of the 2006 season.

"We moved the ball a lot and controlled it," Irons says. "I don't remember one drive they stopped us. We hurt ourselves on one drive and that hurt us but other than that we were driving down the field on them. Every game we play we can do that if we put our heads into it and fight hard like we know how."

Irons isn't the only injury in the backfield as fullback Carl Stewart suffered an ankle and knee sprain against Florida Saturday night and was wearing a protective boot early Sunday. The junior didn't practice but could return this week in time to play against Tulane this weekend. Without him the Tigers turn to sophomore Michael McLaughlin in the fullback role.

Defensively the Tigers are pretty healthy as only redshirt freshman safety Aairon Savage got dinged up against the Gators. He suffered a stinger in his shoulder but returned to action and played well down the stretch. He should be fine to return to practice full speed on Tuesday.

The first game following his suspension for Tray Blackmon proved to be a good one for the redshirt freshman as he finished second on the defense with 27 production points in just 22 plays for the Tigers.

He wasn't the leader for the unit though as Quentin Groves led the way with 34 points after having three sacks. Coordinator Will Muschamp says that Groves made some plays Saturday night that gave the team a lift.

"Quentin is a guy that has really played solid for us all year but this is the first game in my opinion where he's made some critical plays for us on third down. He's made big plays in big situations and that's what we're expecting of him."

The Tigers will take Monday off before returning to the practice field Tuesday morning. Kickoff for Saturday's homecoming game against the Tulane Green Wave is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and there is no television.

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