Practice Is Tough On Tiger Backs

Preseason practices are beginning to take a toll on the Auburn Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Coach Tommy Tuberville has repeated many times the need for at least four running backs throughout the course of a season. Unfortunately that need has already risen in the preseason as both Brad Lester and Tristan Davis were missing in action by the end of Thursday night's second practice, leaving the Tigers with just Mario Fannin and Ben Tate to close out the night.

With Davis out after limping off the field following the morning practice (no injury report given), Lester came in during 11-on-11 drills near the end of the practice and on his first play was hit in the knee by a helmet after a player tripped and fell into the back. Going to the ground, Lester was helped off the field by trainers and didn't return. Tuberville says while it looked serious he expects the junior back quickly.

"He's fine," Tuberville says. "He just bruised his knee. He got hit in the knee with a helmet. He'll be 100 percent ready to ride (tomorrow)."

That finished off what was another inconsistent practice for the offense that caused the normally mild Al Borges to have a screaming session at wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez for dropping a pass during the two-minute drill. Normally smooth in executing the drill, the Tigers struggled with both the first and second teams which is not a surprise early in camp. Especially rough was the second team as Neil Caudle's first pass was intercepted by Chris Evans for an easy score.

One bright spot on the night was the play of the offensive front in the running game as both Tate and Lester had some big gainers against the first defense.

The inconsistency is something that starter Brandon Cox is hoping to shore up as the Tigers get ready for Saturday morning's scrimmage. Just over three weeks away from the season opener against Kansas State, Cox says there are too many things going wrong at the moment and that starts with him.

"It has been all right," Cox says of his camp to this point. "I'm not where I want to be right now. I'm still trying to get the timing down with everything. I have gotten better since I got out here the first day but I still have a ways to go."

Quarterback Brandon Cox scans the defense during the two-minute drill.

The player who is pushing everyone at the quarterback position is freshman Kodi Burns. In Thursday night's team work the second team snaps were shared by Caudle, Steven Ensminger and Burns. While none did anything extraordinary, Burns has been every been as consistent to this point as any of the other three quarterbacks vying for the backup spot and Caudle says he's been impressed by the learning ability of the freshman.

"Kodi is doing really well," Cox says. "He's accurate. He can move around in the pocket. He's got good pocket awareness and he's smart too. He's football smart. He asks a lot of questions and he's really done well learning everything. He has a ways to go but he's a lot farther along than I thought he would be."

Neil Caudle takes a snap with the second offensive line consisting of Oscar Gonzalez, Bart Eddins, Ryan Pugh, Byron Isom and Antwoin Daniels.

Thursday morning Tuberville stated that he was ready to cut the quarterback chase down to just three so the two young guys would have a chance to get more reps and improve at a faster pace. Cox says it's imperative for someone to step up behind him and he's hopes it's sooner rather than later.

"They are going to start narrowing down the reps and you have to be in the top three to get reps," Cox says. "It's important for them to fight these next few days. We have a big scrimmage coming up Saturday so that will determine a lot."

Up front the Tigers continue to mix and match on the offensive line as redshirt freshman Mike Berry worked as the first team right guard in place of senior Leon Hart. Tuberville says Hart returned home for a family matter and should be back in time for Saturday's scrimmage. Freshman Lee Ziemba again was the first team right tackle with King Dunlap, Tyronne Green and Jason Bosley finishing off the entire unit. Ziemba continues to impress as he had several good battles with Quentin Groves with each winning their fare share.

The night finished with another productive kicking session as walk-on Graham Sutter from Montgomery continued his very impressive preseason with a perfect night. Included in that was a field goal from 41 yards in a pressure situation with wind sprints on the line. Ross Gornall also made his pressure kick but missed one from 30 yards. Each kicked from 25, 30, 35 and 40 yards out before the final kick.

Friday's practice originally scheduled for 4:30 p.m. has been changed and is now set to take place at 8:15 in the morning. Saturday the team will hold its first scrimmage of the preseason beginning at around 9:30 a.m. inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. The scrimmage is closed to the public. Fan Day will begin inside Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum at 3 p.m. and last for two hours. Originally scheduled to take Sunday off, the Tigers now will practice at 7 p.m. back on the intramural fields.

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