Tuberville finding some answers
It was July 25, the kickoff of Southeastern Conference media days, and coach Tommy Tuberville stood at the podium in one of the Riverchaseís Wynfrey Hotelís many meeting rooms addressing a throng of reporters. He had just as many questions about his team as they did.
Now, three weeks and 13 practices later, heís found answers for some of those daunting questions as Auburn ends its two-a-day practices Wednesday night and begins school Thursday.
Here are some of the questions that have been answered through mid-August workouts, and others that remain a mystery as the team heads into a two-week stretch leading up to the first game against Kansas State on Sept. 1.
Question: Who will fill the void left by kickoff man Matt Clark, place-kicker John Vaughn and punter Kodi Bliss?
Answer: Before he even stepped on campus, Wes Byrum was christened as the starting place-kicker, at least in the media guide, which lists Byrum and redshirt freshman Ross Gornall as co-starters.
Byrum has proven he has a strong leg, but Tuberville said the true freshmanís technique needs work. Tuberville said last week that Byrum is ahead of the other two competing kickers for the kickoff spot, but the field-goal-kicking battle remains even.
Byrum is also a contender in the three-way fight for starting punter with redshirt freshman Ryan Shoemaker and a walk-on.
Either way you cut it, the special teams, a huge uncertainty when Tuberville stood at that podium three weeks ago, is not as much of a problem now.
Question: Who will replace the four starters who departed on the offensive line?
Answer: This one is still unsolved, especially at the right tackle spot where for the past two weeks there has been a host of players practicing at the position.
Because of the amount of depth on the offensive line, but only one true star — senior left tackle King Dunlap — the four other positions may be run by committee, like many on the team this season.
True freshman Lee Ziemba is the newest addition to the right tackle carousel. Junior Andrew McCain emerged from spring as the starter, but itís obvious that line coach Hugh Nall isnít impressed.
Leon Hart emerged from spring as the starter at right guard and before an injury, looked to stay in that spot. Hart, along with fellow linemen Mike Berry and Ryan Pugh, are suffering from the injury bug. Pugh was fighting for the starting center job; Berry at both guard spots.
Junior Jason Bosley has emerged as the starting center, but an ankle sprain will keep him out for about a week, opening the position up for more competition.
At 6-feet-9 and 312 pounds, Dunlap holds down the left tackle spot, while the left guard position is a tossup.
Eight players are fighting for the four offensive line roles, and all eight may start some time this season.
Question: Who will replace running back Kenny Irons?
Answer: A lot of players, apparently. No one player will get 25 to 30 carries a game as Irons did; at least they wonít at the start of the season.
You can expect a rushing stat sheet for the first few games to read something like this: Brad Lester, 12 carries, 45 yards. Mario Fannin, eight carries, 40 yards. Ben Tate, six carries, 25 yards. Carl Stewart, four carries, 25 yards.
Stewart, a thick-framed 229-pound fullback, has missed all of preseason practice with a hamstring injury, but his 27 carries last season will undoubtedly be higher this year.
Coming into preseason camp Lester seemed to be the true No. 1 if there was any, but Tuberville has raved about Fannin, a redshirt freshman, and said little to nothing about Lester.
Tate, who led all backs last season with 7.3 yards per carry, was praised by Tuberville for his play in the scrimmage.
He had 54 carries in 2006 for nearly 400 yards.