That's the one-and-only Eltoro "The Toro" Freeman at morning practice, sporting the cast we'd heard he was wearing yesterday. Although Freeman (according to Tate) worked with the LBs during drills in an orange non-contact jersey and Harris Gaston made a return to the land of the living, that doesn't change the fact that Ted Roof had three scholarship linebackers to work with in yesterday's practice.
Let's go over that again: Three. 3. Tres. Trois. One fewer than four. Scholarship linebackers. At an Auburn football practice.
As for that other area of deepest depth concern, the offensive line ...
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has an entire offensive line’s worth of injured players.I suppose things could be worse--the starters have thus far come through unscathed KNOCK ON A PIECE OF WOOD THE SIZE OF YOUR TELEVISION--but no, when you have seven scholarship offensive linemen to work with and one of them is a true freshman the entire world expects to redshirt, that's a bit of an issue.
Andre Harris, Vance Smith, Darrell Roseman (sling on right arm), A.J. Greene and Bart Eddins all were inactive at Thursday’s practice.
Aside from his first-team group, Grimes had just two scholarship linemen (John Sullen and Jared Cooper) working with him.
What's been frustrating about Auburn's rash of camp injuries--even if I suspect that many of them would be the kind the players would be asked to play through if this was midseason, or if Auburn had enough depth to withstand a potential long-term aggravation of an existing injury somewhere--is that for every step Auburn seems to take forward in terms of depth, there seem to be two backward. Zac Etheridge seems to be over his spring shoulder issue? Too bad, Mike McNeil's not going to be ready and Bell and Hood are both dinged up. (Though Bell did return today.) Nick Fairley is as ready-to-contribute as advertised? That'd be great if Mike Blanc wasn't hurt and Zach Clayton and Derrick Lykes didn't both miss this morning's practice. Et cetera.
The bottom line: the longer these issues drag on, the more and more likely it becomes that at some point this year Auburn puts someone on the field somewhere that just doesn't deserve to be out there, someone that costs the Tigers a game. If you listened to my Internet radio appearance* you know I've pegged Auburn at 7-5, but I added with characteristic orange-and-blue homerism that I thought a surprise 8-5 year was more likely than 6-6. Seeing the brutal reality of how close we are to lining up walk-ons on the line, at linebacker, at safety, etc ... yeah, I'm not sure that's the case.
There are two silver linings: 1. No season-enders as of yet, hooray hooray 2. Assuming Freeman's and Blanc's injuries aren't enough to hold them out of the opener, the projected starting lineup is, somehow, still intact with the exception of McNeil. Glory be.
But at this rate, of course, how long is that going to last? Other developments from yesterday's and this morning's practices:
--It is, as expected, Caudle vs. Rollison for the back-up QB spot. Malzahn said not to read too much into Rollison's taking the greater share of reps since the coaches "have information" on Caudle already, but I still don't think I'd be too excited about my prospects if I was Caudle.
--Dee Ford is back from injury detail and is working with the linebackers because there are no linebackers. Not a surprise: with Coleman, Goggans, Carter, and Cam Henderson all still healthy--I think--defensive end is the rare position that's still relatively solid.
--Also not surprising: Walt McFadden saying the team was divided by quarterbacking loyalties last season and that the early decision this year will help prevent that sort of problem this year. At least until Todd throws an interception and puts the defense back on the field after a 23-second layoff.
--Punt return candidates during morning practice: Anthony Gulley, M. Billings, Q. Carr, M. Fannin. A little surprised to see Billings and Carr there, since I've never thought of either one as particularly fast or elusive, two qualities you'd expect in a punt returner. Was Demond Washington too busy learning cornerback to participate?
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said yesterday was a difficult day and he almost seemed to get emotional when talking about Caudle and Kodi Burns. He said he was "blessed" to be able to work with quarterbacks of such character, and they were the type of young men you'd love for your daughters to marry. He said Burns' response to yesterday's news was among the positive things he had ever experienced in coaching.Emphasis added because I think that's a first. And while it seems like this might be just one of those little personal details, I'd wager that if Malzahn really has this kind of respect for Burns, it becomes much more likely he's going to go the extra mile to get Burns involved somehow.
--And lastly, I'm sure you noticed who stopped by practice yesterday and today:
Just a random thought: does Herschel Walker do this at Georgia? Does Barry Sanders at Oklahoma St.? Marshall Faulk at San Diego St.? Ron Dayne at Wisconsin? Maybe they do, for all I know. But I doubt it.
*If you're interested, I'm back on today to discuss my full name and square off with Will in a battle of wits of a sort. No football content, but it's only 10 minutes long and potentially entertaining ... so, yeah, just FYI.