Banged Up Tigers Finish Work For Skyhawks

Auburn will face the UT-Martin Skyhawks on Saturday and it could be a day of mix and match on both sides of the ball for the Tigers because of injuries.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers put the finishing touches on the game plan for UT-Martin on Thursday with a nearly two-hour practice in shells that featured a lot of work on the kicking game.

Coach Tommy Tuberville said this week has been a difficult one with the amount of injuries on both sides of the ball.

"It was a good practice," Tuberville said. "We had a few people out there that are attempting to learn the game plan and might play a few plays, but we've got a lot of guys out. We haven't had a lot of continuity this week. That has been the same thing the last couple of weeks."

The biggest question mark is on the defensive line where Sen'Derrick Marks and Tez Doolittle have both been slowed because of injuries. Because of that position coach Don Dunn said that Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton will go into the game as the starters with Jake Ricks the top backup at both positions. After that is anyone's guess.

"We'll see how healthy we are, hopefully we'll get to play them all--Tez and Sen'Derrick and everybody," Dunn said.

Clayton has been playing outside and inside for the Tigers in recent weeks, but Dunn said this week the sophomore would only move outside in an emergency. That's almost the case inside as because of injuries the Tigers are even taking a look at true freshman Derrick Lykes.

Dunn added that offensive lineman Kyle Coulahan would be available only if they needed to get out of a game without using the redshirt from Lykes.

"We've had him up," Dunn said. "We don't want to play him, but with our situation we may have to," he said of Lykes, a newcomer from Chilton County High School. "He's been getting a lot of reps with the thirds and seconds and doing a good job. He's not ready to play, but if we had to, if we lose three or four more guys, we're going to have to put him in there. I hope not, especially this late because it wouldn't be fair to him. You've also got to be fair to the team. Hopefully, we don't have to."

The offense hasn't been immune to injuries as starting wide receiver Rod Smith was injured during the Ole Miss game with a hip pointer and has missed much of the practice time this week. Wide receiver coach Greg Knox said Smith has done enough this week though that if he's able to go Saturday he could be used.

"He's done a little," Knox said. "He's not 100 percent, but he's able to do some things. He's working a little bit. As we get closer to the game it will be a game time decision. We'll see how he looks in warmups."

If he can go that would be good news for an offense that is coming off its best passing performance for total yardage in three years. While there were some mistakes from Kodi Burns, Tuberville said the sophomore has picked up where he left off with a good week of practice.

"We've expanded our offense in terms of formations and things we're doing in the running and passing game," Tuberville said. "I think Kodi has had a real good week of throwing the football. I think we're getting better every day, which we need to do that."

Knox agreed with Tuberville, saying that having a big game in the passing department should do wonders for the offense.

"Kodi is gaining confidence, our receivers are gaining confidence, the whole offense is," Knox said. "Being able to throw the ball as well as we did Saturday and to make some big plays down the field lit a spark under the offense. We come out at halftime and were able to complete the deep ball to Chris (Slaughter) and continue that drive and go down and score. That was a momentum thing for us. To be able to throw and complete plays down the field with some consistency is what we're striving for."

In the kicking game there were several bits of good news from practice this week concerning kickers and punters. Tuberville said two of the players who have struggled with consistency had one of their better weeks of the year, which is a positive for the team.

"The kicking game was good," Tuberville said. "I think Wes Byrum might have turned the corner. We've got to get him out on the field some to see if he's improved. I think his technique is much improved. I think our punters have gotten better. Ryan Shoemaker is much improved. He hasn't punted a whole lot, but he and Clinton Durst are close together. I would love to punt both of them this week."

With Robert Dunn back healthy the job of punt returner will go back to the senior, but Tuberville said the plan is to continue to give Chris Slaughter chances to return punts as well in an alternating role.

Kickoff for Saturday's homecoming game is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and there is no television.

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