Tigers Hold Out Key Players

A report on Auburn's Wednesday evening football practice is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers worked for one hour and 50 minutes on the game plan for Saturday's Homecoming football game with a heavy emphasis on kickoff coverage.

Tommy Tuberville's team worked under the lights on Wednesday evening with starting tailback Brad Lester and starting left tackle Ryan Pugh being held out of the action.

Pugh is trying to get fully recovered from an ankle injury that limited him to eight plays vs. Ole Miss. Lester tweaked a groin muscle last week, but continued to run on it. He could play if needed, but the plan is to get him as close to full speed as possible for next week's road trip to Georgia.

"He could go," Tuberville said of Lester. "We are just trying to get him 100 percent," added Tuberville, who said he doesn't know if Lester will play vs. Tennessee Tech, a Division I-AA team with a 4-5 record.

Zach Kutch, Morgan Hull and Patrick Tatum all worked as the kickoff man with Wes Byrum limited to field goal duties this week. Getting the kickoffs deep enough with adequate hang time has been an issue with Byrum being injured much of the year.

"It looked pretty good," Tuberville said of the kickers, noting it will be a game-time warmup decision on who will get the assignment vs. Tennessee Tech.

"Everybody's having problems," Tuberville said of the new rule that moved kickoffs back five yards this season. "There are not many people who have somebody who can kick it from the 35 to the end zone so you have got coverage problems because you have to cover more."

Tuberville, a member of the NCAA's football rules committee, said he doesn't regret supporting the new rule. "I think it has added something to it, but I think they will look at the injury part of it," he noted. "If there are much more injuries they will probably change it."

Tennessee Tech has returned four kickoffs for touchdowns this season with three coming from senior receiver Larry Shipp. "We worked a lot more on the kicking game today getting ready for number five, their good kickoff returner," Tuberville said of Shipp. "It is going to be a challenge in that area.

"We had a lot of good contact," the coach added. "Mentally, we eased up a bit this week this week. Physically, we have been practicing the same. We had a lot of good contact. We are still working on the fundamentals."

Having tailback Lester at full speed for the rivalry games vs. Georgia and Florida is very important to the Auburn offense, Tuberville said. "You have to have four or five running backs to go into the season," he stated. "When we lost Brad and Tristan Davis we only had two and they were basically freshman running backs to start the season and it showed. We turned the ball over 10 times. We made mistakes on offense. You can't put a price on experience.

Brad Lester Mario Fannin and those two tailbacks have performed better since Lester returned, Tuberville contends.

"Brad gives us extra quickness inside and outside on being able to run the ball plus on pass protection he is a very good pass protector," the coach said. "He has been a big part of our success."

In other news:

*Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite was held out of Wednesday's practice due to an upset stomach. Tuberville said he hopes the illness is something that does not spread to other members of the team. Tuberville noted that Lee Ziemba, Chaz Ramsey and Jason Bosley were ill on Tuesday, but practiced on Wednesday.

*Tuberville said he hopes to plan backup offensive linemen Andrew McCain and Antwoin Daniels this week.

*The Homecoming game will also be Senior Day. AU will honor Cole Bennett, Eric Brock, Brandon Cox, Dunlap, Tez Doolittle, Zach Gilbert, Quentin Groves, Brandon Haley, Leon Hart, Josh Hebert, Patrick Lee, Matthew Motley, Danny Perry, Prechae Rodriguez, Carl Stewart, Josh Thompson and Wilhite.

*Auburn is looking for its 16th straight victory on Homecoming. During that stretch, the Tigers have won those games by an average margin of 24 points.

*Saturday's game is the first ever football contest matching the Tigers and the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech, the school where AU basketball coach Jeff Lebo got his start as a head coach.

*After intercepting just one pass in his first 41 college games, Patrick Lee has four picks in his last five games. In the SEC, only Jerrell Norton of Arkansas and D.J. Moore, with five apiece, have more interceptions than the Auburn senior cornerback.

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