Gran Upbeat About Tailbacks Irons and Lester

An Auburn football report is featured as the Tigers prepare to play in-state rival Alabama.

Auburn, Ala.--Could Auburn's top tailbacks be physically ready to step up their play as the Tigers close the 2006 regular football season on Saturday?

AU running backs coach, Eddie Gran, says he is hopeful that is the case.

Senior Kenny Irons, an All-SEC pick as a junior, has been bothered by a series of injuries this year that include ankle sprains and a nagging turf toe problem. Both are major problems for a running back to overcome.

The top tailback backup, sophomore Brad Lester, has struggled with nagging injuries the past two seasons.

Irons has battled through the injuries and rushed for 736 yards at 4.7 yards per carry this season playing in nine of Auburn's 11 games although he made only a brief appearance vs. Arkansas State in game ten. Last year Irons averaged 5.1 yards per carry and rushed for 1,293 yards.

On opening night before suffering his first injury, Irons was quick and powerful as he rushed for 183 yards on just 14 carries vs. Washington State. He has three 100-yard rushing games this season, but has not yet matched his opening night total.

"Kenny looked faster (vs. Georgia) and he looked like hit the hole a little better," Gran says. "With nothing really happening this week to it I think he will be close to full speed. I think we will have them both back pretty close to normal."

Brad Lester runs the ball vs. Georgia.

Lester, who missed four games last year, has played at less than full speed at times this year. He has rushed for 456 yards and eight touchdowns at 5.1 yards per carry.

"I think Brad is back to 100 percent and really ran the ball hard," Gran says. "I was really excited the way he got up in the hole and moved the ball. We just kind of ran out of reps on Saturday. I will get him in there quicker this week. It is a pretty nice one-two combination and he brings something to the table."

Lester agrees with his position coach that he has made physical progress. "I felt real comfortable out there last week," Lester says. "It seems like as the season goes on my body gets in better game shape."

Gran says he is looking forward to seeing how Irons and Lester run vs. Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. "We have got to break some more tackles," the coach notes. "We have had some good holes, but we just haven't had that big play from the running backs this year. We don't talk about it a lot, but it is one of our goals to have those plus-20 runs and to have that one game-breaker. We have to run through tackles and make that great play."

Gran says both backs have been close to breaking long plays for scores this year and the coach is hoping to see it happen this week. "It has been close, but close isn't going to get you anywhere. We are just going to continue to do that (long runs). We have two games left and right now it is a one-game season."

The Auburn coach says that Irons and Lester will be challenged this week facing the Alabama defense in Tuscaloosa. "They are solid, they are fast, they are physical and we have got our hands full," he says.

Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CST for a game that will be televised by CBS. Auburn, 9-2 overall and 5-2 in the SEC, is shooting for its fifth straight victory over Alabama, which is 6-5 overall and 2-5 in the SEC.

Last year in Auburn's 28-18 victory over Bama, Irons rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown while Lester did not play.

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