News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

One-time starter, Lester third on AU depth chart

By Ross Dellenger 340-2462

AUBURN — Running back Brad Lester will not start against Vanderbilt this weekend and will play behind tailbacks Ben Tate and Mario Fannin, according to Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.

"This is the first game of the season for him. Ben Tate and Mario both will play before him," Tuberville said Tuesday at his news conference.

"He will play some. Depending on how he handles the situation will determine how much. He'll earn more and more playing time."

Auburn's starting tailback entering the season, Lester is listed as the third-string tailback behind Tate and Fannin on the team's updated depth chart released Tuesday.

The junior from Georgia will end a six-game suspension that dates back to January's Cotton Bowl.

The school has not revealed all the reasons for Lester's suspension, but it involved academic issues that apparently were resolved Sept. 21.

Auburn did not make Lester available to speak with reporters and does not plan to do so until after Saturday's game.

Tuberville said Lester will have to earn his starting job back from Tate, who leads the team averaging 82 yards a game. Tate and Fannin have combined for 341 rushing yards and five scores over the past two games.

"(Tate and Fannin) have put a lot into the first five games," Tuberville said. "They've improved, made a lot of progress."

Tuberville said Lester will be eased into the lineup and will play a "spot role" for the first "couple of games."

Tuberville indicated Sunday that Lester will replace Fannin on the kickoff return team, but on Auburn's depth chart, Fannin and Pat Lee remain the starting kickoff returners.

Auburn's offense has sustained an ongoing quarterback controversy, but now, it could be dealing with one at the tailback position.

When Tate was asked if he has earned the right to remain the primary ball carrier, he hesitated before saying:

"I guess you can say in a way, but then in a way, I haven't. I don't know."

Tate said he's not worried about the distribution of carries but wants to be on the field.

"Just get me on the field, and, other than that, I don't worry about it," he said.

Fannin was asked similar questions Tuesday.

"You can't look at it as being selfish," said Fannin, who's averaging about 12 carries a game. "As a teammate, you're just happy that he's back."

Fannin said he thinks of himself and Tate as bruising power runners, while Lester is more of a "slasher." Lester's agility should add "another dimension to our running game," Fannin said.

Auburn's running game ranks eighth in the SEC and 65th nationally with a 146-yard average. Tate and Fannin are the only tailbacks left from a depleted tailback corps.

Reserve running back Tristan Davis, who suffered a fracture to his toe during preseason practice, saw his first action of the season against Florida, but he re-injured his foot in the game and had surgery Monday. Davis is out indefinitely.

Vanderbilt at Auburn

11:30 a.m.

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