Wounded Tigers Hoping to Return for SEC Play

With Ryan Shoemaker out and Wes Byrum limited, the Tigers spent extra time on special teams on Wednesday.

Auburn, Ala.--In preparation for the SEC opener against Mississippi State, Auburn practiced for just over two hours in shells. Despite numerous injuries to the defense and special teams, it was a "very good" practice according to head coach Tommy Tuberville.

"We flew around, made plays and worked a lot on the kicking game," he said. "It's SEC week. The guys are having fun."

The Tigers are 8-0 in Tuberville's eight previous SEC openers.

The offense's only major personnel setback at this point is tailback Brad Lester. Tuberville had nothing new to report on his academic status.

Will Muschamp and Terry Price coach up the defensive line.

Aarion Savage and Tray Blackmon both injured their ankles against Kansas State and did not play against South Florida. Their status is still uncertain but they are practicing in hopes of being physically ready against Mississippi State.

"Tray Blackmon practiced today and Savage," Tuberville said, "but they're still not 100 percent. We'll just have to wait and see before the game if they're going to play. They know the game plan."

Jonathan Wilhite has missed time in both games with a hamstring injury. "He can play. We're just holding him out right now to get him to 100 percent... kind of like a race horse. He should play."

Linebacker Merrill Johnson did not practice and neither did punter Ryan Shoemaker, who separated an elbow covering a punt against South Florida. Patrick Tatum is again expected to handle punting duties. He averaged 38.3 yards per punt against the Bulls and had his first kick downed on the USF one-yard line.

In Johnson and Blackmon's absence, Chris Evans and Courtney Harden are expected to fill the void. Craig Stevens also knows Johnson's weakside position, so that could mean more playing time for freshman linebacker Bo Harris if Stevens moves positions.

Quarterback Neil Caudle was injured during a preseason scrimmage and is making progress on his return. "He's done good," Tuberville noted. "His arm is stronger. The last couple of days it's gotten a little sore. He separated it, like the Ben Leard injury a few years ago (in 1999). It took Ben a while to get back. He's scout team and we're trying to get his arm stronger."

Auburn will be gunning for its seventh consecutive victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. The game will be televised on Lincoln Financial Sports, where the Tigers have won nine of the last 10.

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