News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Dunn wants to
be go-to guy

AU junior wide receiver ready to be team leader

By Ross Dellenger
sports@ · 340-2460

AUBURN — Late Friday night, just hours before Auburn’s first scrimmage of the preseason, true freshman Chris Slaughter had an unexpected visitor enter his room.

“I kind of broke curfew to go to his room and go over the plays with him a little bit before the scrimmage,” Robert Dunn said Saturday.

Even if he only has seven catches to his name, Dunn has embraced his role as a leader on the Auburn receiving corps. And along the way if he breaks a couple of team rules, he won’t sweat it.

Dunn realizes that someone must step up and fill the void left by senior standout Courtney Taylor.

Junior receiver Rod Smith has shown his skills on the field — second on the team with 26 catches for 452 yards and first on the team with four touchdowns last season. But Auburn has had success during the past four years by having not only one, but two or three receivers to count on.

Last season, it was the Smith-and-Taylor combo, combining for 80 grabs and more than 1,150 yards.

In 2005 it was Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Anthony Mix who together caught 82 passes for a combined 1,139 yards.

The year before that, it was Taylor, Obomanu and Aromashodu combining for 92 catches and more than 1,600 yards.

In 2003, Taylor and Jeris McIntyre amassed exactly 1,000 yards on 75 catches.

Dunn, a junior from Augusta, Ga., looks to join Smith as one of the team’s go-to receivers, while also grooming those who will one day be in his position, like Slaughter.

“I’m just sharing everything I’ve learned over the past two years with all the young guys, just trying to bring them along,” said the 6-foot, 175-pounder.

Dunn emerged from spring as one of Auburn’s three starting receivers, joining Smith and sophomore Montez Billings. But he has yet to have a breakout season.

Dunn played in only eight games in 2005 with two catches. Last season, he played every game but had only five grabs.

This preseason practice, though, seems to have been his best so far.

“Dunn has been good for us, not only in a leadership role, but he’s been making plays in practice,” said receivers coach Greg Knox. “He’s matured a lot, and it’s starting to show.”

Dunn is almost a shoo-in starter, but it’s the other receiver position — the Z, as it’s called in the Tigers offense — that is up for grabs.

Billings, a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, held the spot coming into fall practice, but a hamstring injury earlier in the week has sidelined him. That has led to the recent emergence of senior Prechae Rodriguez, who was listed as the No. 2 guy behind Billings.

At 6-feet-4 and 208 pounds, Rodriguez is not only the tallest receiver on the squad but he’s the only senior. His stock went up after Saturday’s scrimmage, when had several big catches, according to players and coach Tommy Tuberville.

“He’s been doing really good playing at the Z position right now,” Smith said. “I think it was going to be out of him and Montez Billings, and Montez Billings is hurt right now. The Z, that was the big question mark for us.”

Players said redshirt freshman receiver Terrell Zachery, who played with the second and third stringers, made several good catches during Saturday’s scrimmage. Zachery, a 6-foot, 205-pounder, backs up Dunn.

Junior James Swinton and redshirt freshman Tim Hawthorne are two more backups trying to make statements during preseason practice.

“Right now, we have to eliminate some of the assignment mistakes and eliminate some of the dropped balls,” Smith said of the receivers as a whole.

Slaughter, the newest addition to the receiver corps, arrived at Auburn on day six of preseason practice because he was awaiting clearance from the NCAA.

He is a member of the 2006 Auburn recruiting class and attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia after failing to qualify academically last year.

The 6-foot-3, 175-pounder has caught the attention of several teammates.

“He’s going to be a great receiver when he learns the system and gets to show his full potential,” said Dunn of Slaughter, who played a “few reps” with the second and third stringers Saturday.

Said Smith of the new guy: “He has a lot of talent. I see that in him already. He’s a playmaker.

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