Gran Looking For More Out Of Special Teams

Auburn assistant Eddie Gran talks about the kicking game and also the plans at running back this week.

Auburn, Ala.--Expected to be one of the strengths of the 2008 Auburn Tigers was special teams and in particular the kickoff return teams. Through four games however that hasn't been the case as Auburn is averaging just 17.8 yards per return this season on eight attempts. While the health of Tristan Davis has had something to do with that, special teams coach Eddie Gran says that there have been other problems they're hoping to get fixed beginning this week.

"We've been hit and miss," Gran says on the returns. "They (LSU) did a great job on hang time last week. Their ball was up 4-4.1 (seconds) in the wind. We caught it and they were on us really quick. That came back to some personnel. We got mismatched. That's our job to find out where the mismatches were and get bigger guys in there. Hopefully we can hold up now and get more yards than what we're getting."

Because of that both Gran and Tommy Tuberville talked about some changes on special teams for this week. Gran says it's a matter of getting more size and more experience on the field to help spring the return men.

"We're just kind of moving some guys around, getting more meat on the front line of the kickoff return," Gran says. "Tommy Trott is working up there and we're getting Gabe (Gabe McKenzie) back there on the wedge. We're getting back to basics. We worked on technique this week. We haven't done a good job of staying on guys. Some of it was a mismatch of personnel. I think with a couple of those changes we'll be better."

So far Davis has had the bulk of the work on kickoff returns with five chances for only 89 yards (17.8 avg). Mario Fannin has returned one for 24 yards while Ben Tate has one chance for 11. Gran says with Davis still questionable after suffering a concussion last week, both could get more work this week along with speedster James Swinton.

Kickoff return isn't the only area of concern as the kickoffs themselves haven't been up to par this season. Part of the reason for that has been a battle by sophomore kicker Wes Byrum with his mechanics. Gran says he sees a lot of improvement from Byrum this week and he's looking for that to continue.

"He was getting a little bit in front of the ball," Gran says. "His body was in front of the ball, which was not allowing him to extend and come through. He's really been working on getting his body back. He took a couple of days last week and a couple of days this week on his own. He's really been working on it. You can see in practice what he's been doing. He's really been working on the details."

Gran says one of the things that has helped Byrum is that they've turned the kickoff duties over to Morgan Hull for now so he can concentrate on field goals and extra points only. Gran says Hull has done a good job but he's hoping to get Byrum back in that duty as well sometime down the road.

Last week starting punter Clinton Durst missed the LSU game after suffering from flu-like symptoms all week long. It proved to be a big loss as he was averaging 43.7 yards on 19 attempts this season. In his place sophomore Ryan Shoemaker punted seven times for a 35.4 average. Gran says Durst is back and feeling good heading into this weekend's contest.

"It's just him getting back in a rhythm," Gran says. "You miss one full week of practice when you don't practice at all, he didn't take one snap last week. You can see as the week has progressed he got better. I think he'll have good tempo and be ready to go on Saturday."

Gran's other coaching duties are at the running back position where co-starter Brad Lester is expected to be ready to go Saturday after suffering a sprained neck two weeks ago and a twisted knee last week. While both Lester and Davis could be ready by Saturday, Gran says he still hopes to get freshman Eric Smith on the field more.

This year the big back has carried the ball only 11 times but has 74 yards on the ground. His combination of size and running ability makes him a unique threat for the Tigers and Gran says he's got to be on the field more often.

"I think when we get to Saturday Brad will be ready to go and Tristan," Gran says. "You still have those guys. Eric has had a good week of practice and is ready to go. What I need to do is get him in there, say a certain series and get him in there. He's proven that he can do it. He had a great week of practice. You'll probably get a chance to see Eric a little bit more this week."

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