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TUESDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2006
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Healing all those injuries
... and Tigers' banged-up players feel the same way

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

AUBURN — Brandon Cox walked into the auditorium in Auburn's athletic complex recently and sat down.

For so many weeks this season, this was a task by itself.

This time, Cox made the motions quick and normal.

Oh, and for the first time since before the Sept. 16 LSU game, his knee wasn't wrapped to protect an injury.

Yes, it's been a good month off for Cox and his teammates.

"Time definitely helps," said Cox, Auburn's starting quarterback. "I feel a lot better, for the most part, healthy. Really, there's nothing wrong with me."

After beating Alabama on Nov. 18, Auburn went four days short of a month without practicing or playing a game.

Now the 10th-ranked Tigers (10-2) are back on the field, gearing up for their Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl date against No. 22 Nebraska (9-4).

In that off time, Cox saw his health improved. So did running back Kenny Irons. And so did every other Auburn player with an injury.

"To this point, we are as healthy as we were starting two-a-days back in August," head coach Tommy Tuberville said.

While Irons might have had more different injuries, nobody hobbled on and off the field like Cox.

He injured his knee against LSU, and it never had time to heal properly.

In the past two weeks, photos surfaced on the Internet of a massively bruised right knee, with deep purples and dark blues. On Friday, Cox confirmed that the picture indeed was of his knee.

It's no wonder he had trouble escaping the pass rush by the end of the regular season.

"I've gone down to smaller knee braces — I've got small ones on both knees," Cox said. "It took a little weight off. I've got a lot better mobility, and it feels a lot better."

Despite all the injuries Cox played through, he finished the season completing nearly 62 percent of his passes for 2,087 yards and 13 touchdowns.

And then there's Irons, who dealt with ankle and foot problems throughout the season.

He sat out of two full games and carried the ball only once in another. He rushed for only 821 yards, almost 500 yards fewer than in his breakout junior season. Even more telling, he scored only four touchdowns compared to 13 last year.

Typically talkative and happy, Irons wasn't himself this year.

"He's been frustrated," running backs coach Eddie Gran said. "He's a competitor. When you can't go full speed like you want to, it's frustrating."

At one time, Irons was considered a first-round NFL draft pick. While he still may go in the opening round, his stock certainly has dropped because of his injuries and inability to make highlight-worthy runs.

All that can change with a good bowl game.

"This can spring him into the draft," Gran said.

"It's so they see that he's back and he's full speed, whether he gains 50 yards or 100 yards. They need to see that burst again."

Tennessee State (4-4) at Auburn (8-3)

Tipoff: Today, 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum

Tennessee State lineup: F Courtney Bohannon, 6-8, Sr., 4.6 ppg., 6.3 rpg.; F Clarence Matthews, 6-7, Sr., 14.6 ppg., 8.1 rpg.; C Larry Turner, 6-11, Fr., 8.0 ppg., 9.4 rpg.; G Reiley Ervin, 5-10, Jr., 8.0 ppg., 3.6 assists; G Ladarious Weaver, 6-0, Jr., 13.6 ppg.

Auburn lineup: F Korvotney Barber, 6-7, So., 14.6 ppg., 7.6 rpg., 2.8 blocks; F Josh Dollard, 6-7, So., 12.2 ppg., 8.2 rpg.; G Frank Tolbert, 6-4, Jr., 13.1 ppg., 6.1 rpg.; G Rasheem Barrett, 6-5, So., 14.3 ppg., 5.1 rpg.; G Quantez Robertson, 6-3, So., 10.2 ppg., 5.5 rpg., 5.7 assists.

Noteworthy: Auburn's Barber leads the SEC in field goal percentage at 63 percent. ... The Tigers' Robertson leads the SEC with 5.73 assists a game. ... This is the first meeting between the two schools. ... This is the second of three games in seven days for the Tigers. Auburn beat Wofford 86-76 on Saturday and will host No. 13 Texas A&M on Friday. ... Auburn has made 57 percent of its field goals, including 49 percent of its 3-point shots, in its past two games.

Bradley Handwerger, Daily Sports Writer

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