Tigers Looking For Help At Receiver

Auburn's wide receivers have been up and down this preseason and have plenty of work to do before the Tigers face Kansas State.

Auburn, Ala.--With junior Rodgeriqus Smith the only returning starter at wide receiver for the Auburn Tigers after his 26 catches, 452 yards and four touchdown year in 2006, Coach Greg Knox has had his hands full this year trying to fill out the playing rotation as opening night nears.

Veterans Prechae Rodriguez and Robert Dunn appear to have nailed down the other two starting spots for the Kansas State game, but after that Knox notes that who will play behind that trio is sundecided.

"We've still got a definite three who we know can play for us right now," Knox says. "If we had to line up tomorrow we're still looking for backups behind those three. We're looking for guys who can go in and make quality reps."

Last season Rodriguez was third on the team with 14 catches and fourth in receiving yards with 168. The dropoff from Courtney Taylor to Smith to Rodriguez was significant enough, but after that it becomes downright scary for the Tigers. Departed senior Lee Guess had six catches for 114 yards and after that Dunn's five for 52 yards was next on the list. All total, Auburn's wide receivers after Smith caught just 29 passes for 393 yards and one touchdown in 2006.

Behind Smith on the depth chart at the moment is junior James Swinton and redshirt freshman Tim Hawthorne. Having a solid preseason, the speedster Swinton has made a move and is likely a player who will see action early. Out with a minor ankle injury at the moment, Hawthorne has some ground to make up heading into the week of the game.

On the other side Montez Billings came back Tuesday and practiced for the first time in almost a month after suffering a hamstring injury. Although he's not full speed, Billings could add some playmaking ability to the receiving corps. Knox says being without Hawthorne and Billings this preseason at various times has left him searching for answers from elsewhere.

"That's kind of tough," Knox says. "You've got to move on like they're not there until they get back. You have to keep pressing forward."

Tim Hawthorne makes a difficult catch during preseason practices.

Early in preseason, one of the players who looked impressivee because of his athleticism was true freshman Quindarius Carr from Huntsville. Showing up in great shape over the summer, Carr has progressed well but is likely headed for a redshirt. That might not be the case with fellow freshman Chris Slaughter though. Knox says despite his late arrival, Slaughter is progressing nicely and has a chance to play this season.

"It's a slow process," Knox points out. "We're taking baby steps with him. Right now he may have half the offense in his head and maybe can only execute a quarter of that. Right now he's a long way behind, but he's playing catch up. So much was put in before he got here that he's been playing catch up the whole time.

"He's thinking on everything he does," Knox adds. "Nothing is a reaction to him yet. It's still a thinking process. Everything is new to him every day. We've just got to spoon feed him right now."

Missing all of the summer workouts after the NCAA Clearinghouse took its time clearing him from prep school, Slaughter has gotten a crash course in the wide receiver position at Auburn.

"He's in consideration but he's still a long way off from helping us right now," Knox says.

With practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday left in this week and another full week left before facing the Wildcats, he's hoping to get Slaughter as ready to play if possible. While the former Peach County, Ga., High School star is struggling to get up to speed learning the offense, he's already shown the ability to be a special receiver down the road for the Tigers. Because of that Knox says they're going to do everything possible to get him ready.

"We're going to try to get him caught up," the wide receivers coach says. "Maybe we can get him to know half of the offense by the time we get the Kansas State game. Right now we're still going through the phase of trying to spoon feed him. I think he learns something every day. That's good that he takes one step forward every day. As long as he can latch on to something small and take that step then we've made progress."

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