Decisions Coming Soon for Coach Gran

Eddie Gran has a handful of personnel decisions to make before the opener against Kansas State on Sept. 1.

Auburn, Ala.--It hasn't been an easy August for running backs coach Eddie Gran, who also serves as the coordinator of the Auburn special teams. Last year's starting running back, Kenny Irons, is gone. Starting fullback Carl Stewart has missed the last two weeks with a pulled hamstring. Another tailback and the Tigers' primary kick returner, Tristan Davis, is out another 5-7 weeks after getting a pin put in his big toe. Last year's punt returner, Robert Dunn, was unproductive and has been inconsistent fielding punts. Then there is the issue of replacing all three kickers.

Gran is expected to announce a decision on Sunday concerning place kicking duties with Wes Byrum and Graham Sutter, both freshmen, considered the top candidates. Byrum is from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale and Sutter is a walk-on from St. James in Montgomery. Zach Kutch and Ross Gornall have also been in the mix, but the other two have had more consistency during the preseason.

"There's still not the consistency," Gran notes, "but we're making progress. Did we make progress from last week to this week? Yes. So that's definitely a good thing.

"The numbers will stick out at you," he adds. "You've got to look at different situations and times. Is it a team drill? Does it mean anything for the kick? You've got to factor some of those things in."

The football staff films every practice and every kick is charted.

Byrum has the stronger leg of the two and will likely handle kickoff duties, if not both.

Ryan Shoemaker, the only scholarship punter on the team, missed a week of camp with a groin injury and is being pushed by Patrick Tatum. Tatum is a walk-on from Sylvania, Ala.

"He never lost his No. 1 spot," Gran notes. "Probably two out of the three days this week he was really good, but we've got to have three out of three."

The punt returning duties were Dunn's to lose, but Gran says it's becoming a tight race after Dunn muffed two attempts during Friday night's scrimmage. Mario Fannin and Chris Slaughter are making a push.

"It sure is heating that position up with Slaughter and Fannin," Gran says. "We were absolutely awful in terms of punt return. We dropped two punts.

"The kickoff return looked good. Mario had a nice return," he continues. "Everybody had good blocks--probably about a 40-yard return. That was solid, but punt return-wise, that's still a concern."

Also returning kickoffs are Brad Lester, Ben Tate, Patrick Lee and Walter McFadden.

At running back, Lester is the No. 1 but Tate and Fannin are expected to get close to the same amount of playing time and touches because of different roles in the offense. After watching the film from Friday, Gran says that Tate is having a great camp.

"He's getting very confident--did a good job of protecting, did a good job of running and a good job of catching the football," Gran says of Tate. "I was very pleased. We're not there yet, but we made a step and that's what that scrimmage was for. You're two weeks away from playing your first game. Mario had some great pick-ups in pass protection. Some things that didn't get done last week got done this week. I was proud of them all.

Tate is currenty the No. 1 'F' back.

"I was really proud of Brad Lester and Ben Tate," he continues. "They were solid. They both really made a jump in terms of solidifying themselves, which makes sense to me. Ben's been here for two springs and one fall. Mario is playing catch-up a little bit and he's got a little bit of a pulled groin. Just a tight groin, so you just don't see that explosion. In two weeks we'll get him ready for that explosion and that will really help our situation. I thought Brad and Ben really took a step in terms of what we need to get done."

Sunday's practice, which is closed to the public, has been moved from 6:45 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories