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Auburn wide receiver Rod Smith (80) is one of three starting receivers for the Tigers on Saturday.
Daily file photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Auburn wide receiver Rod Smith (80) is one of three starting receivers for the Tigers on Saturday.

Tigers still undecided on young hands

By Ross Dellenger · 340-2462

AUBURN — Auburn receiver Chris Slaughter’s playbook last year in prep school consisted of one route: Run down the field, and we’ll throw you the ball.

“He’s not well-versed on everything that we’re doing,” Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said Tuesday. “He will make some mistakes.”

Still, the Tigers have designated the true freshman as one of the six wideouts who will rotate in Saturday’s game against Kansas State. On the team’s depth chart released Tuesday, Slaughter was listed in the No. 2 spot behind starting receiver Prechae Rodriguez. Tuberville said earlier this week Slaughter will play in Auburn’s opener, making him one of eight incoming freshmen who will receive playing time. “I’m really just trying to learn the plays,” Slaughter said recently.

“It’s another level coming from a prep school. Here, they have a lot of different plays and a lot of different formations. It’s pretty difficult.”

Receivers coach Greg Knox named his three starters — Rodriguez, Robert Dunn and Rod Smith — about two weeks ago, but he still was searching for three backups to complete his six-man rotation.

Judging by the depth chart, junior James Swinton joins Slaughter in the rotation. Swinton, one of the fastest players on the team, is the immediate backup to Smith.

The final backup spot behind Dunn is still up for grabs. Redshirt freshmen Tim Hawthorne and Terrell Zachery, who played at Wadley, are listed as co-No. 2s. Hawthorne held the backup spot midway through preseason practice, but Zachery has caught him since then.

Although Knox said earlier he will only play six receivers this season, Tuberville said Tuesday eight receivers will get playing time. But there are only seven total wideouts listed on the team’s depth chart.

The eighth man Tuberville speaks of is probably Montez Billings, who has been suffering from a hamstring injury. Billings was left off the depth chart and will not play Saturday but should return to practice next week.

Slaughter, a member of the 2006 Auburn recruiting class, attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia after he failed to qualify last year. The Georgia native missed the first five days of preseason practice awaiting approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse.

“We’re trying to spoon-feed him,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said.

Knox said earlier this month that during game week, Slaughter will only have to focus on a certain number of plays, instead of memorizing the entire playbook like he did during preseason practice.

“The offense will be cut down,” he said. “That’ll help him a bunch.”

Slaughter also is listed as the backup punt-returner to Dunn, who has dropped punts during the preseason. With his speed and catching ability, Slaughter could find himself as the starter before the season’s end, especially if Dunn has any miscues in games.

“My mama doesn’t really like me doing punt returns,” Slaughter said. “She says unless you can look them in the eye, you don’t really see who’s coming. You can get hurt like that.”

But Slaughter doesn’t mind. Like any playmaker, he says he “just wants the ball in his hands.”

Slaughter didn’t have a chance to work out with the team during the summer, so his 6-foot-3, 168-pound frame could take a beating during Saturday’s game. Teammates routinely tease him.

“I get that every day. ‘How much do you weigh?’ ‘What’s up, Skinny?’ ” he said. “I don’t let it get to me. Size doesn’t really matter to me. I can play regardless. I could weigh 100 pounds and still play the style I play.”

And that style is awfully impressive. To think, when he arrived on campus five days late and 30 pounds too light that he would be in the playing rotation was quite a stretch.

But his quickness and pass-catching skills have turned heads and vaulted him into a backup spot.

“When he’s out there, he can make plays,” Knox said. “He could do things for us. We’ve just got to get him caught up mentally.

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