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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Dunn takes a step out of the doghouse

t took just one play for Robert Dunn to start his escape from Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville's doghouse.

That play, a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown, apparently helped a great deal.

It was Auburn's first punt return touchdown since 1996.

On Sunday, Tuberville wasn't quite committed to letting Dunn out of "the doghouse."

"Dunn is... we'll take it day by day," Tuberville said. "He's got a big pen out there. We'll let him roam around in that pen out there."

Dunn was dropped from Auburn's starting "H," or slot receiver, to the fourth-string on the depth chart because he violated a team rule.

Still, Dunn returned punts for the Tigers and he was back in the lineup for the second quarter's first play.

Terrell Zachery started in Dunn's place, but Dunn said Monday that he had reclaimed the starting position.

Tuberville made it a point during his Tuesday press conference to address Dunn's drop from first on the depth chart to fourth, specifying that he wasn't suspended, but in "the doghouse."

Dunn said he simply needed to make adjustments.

"I just heard it and corrected the problem," Dunn said. "I'm not trying to go back and forth with any of the coaches. If they feel like it's a problem with something I'm doing then I'm not going to argue with them."

With Auburn's string of injuries to outside receivers, seemingly some players would have to move from the slot to the outside.

Philip Pierre-Louis injured his knee and will undergo season-ending surgery this week. James Swinton (hyperextended knee) and Montez Billings (hamstring) didn't practice on Monday and both are considered questionable.

Both Dunn and Zachery said they practiced Monday as inside receivers still. The leading candidates to move outside are Mario Fannin, Darvin Adams and Tim Hawthorne.

"They are moving guys around, just trying to get two-deep at each position," Tuberville said. "They looked at some things, and they're going to discuss it more tonight to see if they want to move anybody permanently to one spot."

Injury update

Quarterback Kodi Burns was one of several Auburn players who missed Monday's practice. Burns lacerated his leg and required several stitches to close the gash.

Tuberville said there's no swelling, but Burns is "real, real, real sore," and added, "he's a ways away."

Tuberville listed Burns as questionable on Monday, just more than a day after Tuberville said he expected Burns to play. The Auburn coach didn't know whether or not Burns would practice on Tuesday.

Swinton (knee), Billings (hamstring), defensive end A.J. Greene (hamstring) and fullback John Douglas (knee) all missed practice on Monday as well. Linebacker Merrill Johnson (hamstring) and tailback Tristan Davis (ankle) both practiced on Monday. Tuberville said he expects both to play.

Earning points

Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said he was especially happy with the defensive touchdown on the first play of Auburn's win over ULM on Saturday because it exhibited to drills Rhoads has led.

First, defensive end Antonio Coleman got his chance for a sack of ULM quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster, but ensured it would be more than just a loss of yardage when he jarred the ball loose.

Rhoads said the team had watched practice film of the Tigers offense when a defensive end had a shot at the quarterback's blindside.

"We watched this as an entire defense and said, 'This cannot be just a sack. This is the kind of play that has to be a turnover,'" Rhoads said. "That's exactly what AC was presented with on that first play. And it's textbook. He makes the sack, he's hooking one arm to secure the tackle and at the same time he punches the ball out. It's not just an impact fumble. He works to strip that ball."

Next, defensive end Michael Goggans made a flawless recovery on his way to the end zone. Every day in practice, Auburn runs a drill where the defensive players have to scoop a fumble and then try to earn extra yards.

"That play was a series of drills that you can see on the field," Rhoads said. "That play to me is what we've been working on becoming as a defense."

Smith impresses in debut

True freshman tailback Eric Smith made the most of his collegiate debut Saturday night, rushing for 66 yards on nine carries.

Monday afternoon, Tubervile raved about Smith.

"He runs hard," Tuberville said. "He sees the field. He's one of those guys that always has his eyes working. He can make you miss in the open field, even though he's probably the biggest guy we've got. The first guy never brought him down, and that's a good sign for a freshman.

"He's got a lot of potential. He keeps his feet moving. He loves to play. He'll get his indoctrination the next few weeks."

Smith said running was a little easier than he expected, but added that he realized it was not against an SEC opponent.

Auburn running backs coach Eddie Gran gave Smith the nickname "Little Rudi" after former Auburn tailback Rudi Johnson. Smith lived up to the hype Saturday, invoking memories of Johnson during his limited role Saturday.

"I feel like that's a very good compliment," Smith said. "Coach Gran called me little Rudi the first scrimmage that we had. I had a pretty good scrimmage. I seemed to run through a couple of people and he was calling me little Rudi. I was very glad to be compared to somebody on that level already."

With a game under his belt, Smith is now fine-tuning other aspects of his game, such as pass protection.

Busy day for coaches

Monday marked the first day that coaches can contact high school juniors.

Tuberville said he and the coaches were already hard at work by the time he spoke with reporters Monday evening.

Auburn currently has 22 verbal commitments for the 2009 recruiting class. That means the coaching staff can focus more attention on the next class.

"It makes it easier," Tuberville said. "We can go out and see more guys and watch certain players that we know we want. We'll try to go out and watch all the commitments play sooner or later. Right now, we're focusing on offensive linemen, defensive linemen. We're in pretty good shape most other places."

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