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Walk-on Patrick Tatum earned SEC player of the week honors for his four punts for a 45.5-yard average against New Mexico State on Saturday. He is vying for playing time with Ryan Shoemaker.
AP photo by Todd Van Emst
Walk-on Patrick Tatum earned SEC player of the week honors for his four punts for a 45.5-yard average against New Mexico State on Saturday. He is vying for playing time with Ryan Shoemaker.

Competing
for kicks

Shoemaker, Tatum battling for punting job

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

AUBURN — The bag of ice taped around Ryan Shoemaker’s left elbow had to weigh at least 10 pounds.

“It’s just for the swelling,” Auburn’s redshirt freshman punter said. “It’s nothing, not a big deal.”

Shoemaker dislocated the elbow while making a tackle during the Tigers’ loss to South Florida on Sept. 9.

He will make his first start since that game this Saturday when Auburn (2-2, 0-1 SEC) travels to Gainesville, Fla., to face
the fourth-ranked Gators (4-0, 2-0).

Shoemaker’s backup, walk-on Patrick Tatum, has produced just as well, though, garnering SEC player of the week honors for his punting during Auburn’s win over New Mexico State. Tatum punted four times for a 45.5-yard average.

But Tatum’s success during the last 10 quarters has surrounded his short, pooch punts. He had a punt downed at the 1-yard line against South Florida and another against Mississippi State. Five more of his punts have rolled inside the 20-yard line, pinning opponents against their goal line.

“He’s doing a heck of a job,” Shoemaker said.

“I called him (Monday night) and told him I was real proud of him.”

Shoemaker emerged as the starter following a heated battle for the No. 1 spot during preseason practice.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said Tuesday that although Shoemaker will start this weekend, competition between the two will continue throughout the season.

“It will probably go down most times to who’s kicking best during pregame,” he
said.

“They’re very close. Either one of them can do it.”

But Tuberville was impressed with Shoemaker’s 62-yard boot in the waning minutes of the New Mexico State game — his first punt in two weeks. That bomb and Tatum’s absence this week in practice has given Shoemaker the nod for the starting job. Tatum had a death in his family.

“We were hoping to have the competition this week,” Tuberville said.

Special teams coach Eddie Gran said Sunday that coaches will continue to chart each player’s punts during practice and pregame warmups. When asked if Tatum could serve as the pooch punter while Shoemaker handled the longer ones, Gran said, “He might be that guy.”

Tuberville said he has used two punters before, but it has been a while.

In 1999, the coach’s first season at Auburn, Damon Duval and another walk-on, Sammy Manno, were used in that
role.

“Sometimes there’s advantages of that,” he said. “Sometimes there’s not.”

Auburn leads the SEC averaging 44 yards a punt. The Tigers also have punted more times (20) than any team in the conference. Before suffering the injury, Shoemaker had hit nine punts for an average of 47 yards. Tatum has averaged 42 yards on his 11 punts.

Shoemaker will have to wear a brace the rest of the season “to keep (the elbow) in the right spot.”

But he doesn’t mind it too much. He did, after all, kick the longest punt of his collegiate career with that brace strapped to his arm.

“It’s funny to go out there with a brace on as punter,” he said laughing.

Wielding the brace, Shoemaker told trainers he was going to “go out and close line somebody.”

They advised against it.

“But they said I should be all right making a tackle,” he said.

That’s great news — more tackles.

Place-kicker Wes Byrum twisted his ankle on the first kickoff of the season while making a tackle. Shoemaker followed with his own bravery a week later, leading to the injury.

Coaches have told the kickers to be cautious while tackling.

Shoemaker’s response?

“We’ve got to be athletes out there,” he said with a smile.

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