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Friday, September 5, 2008

Injuries change lineup for Auburn


On an injury front, the season didn't start well for Auburn.

Two plays into its season-opener against Louisiana-Monroe, receivers Philip Pierre-Louis and James Swinton were injured and lost for the game. Another outside receiver, Montez Billings, missed the game with a hamstring injury.

Those three injuries left Rod Smith, Chris Slaughter and Quindarius Carr as Auburn's only outside receivers. Making matters worse, Carr played sparingly for the Tigers.

Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said the injuries contributed to a sub-par passing day, but it still comes down to his players needing to make plays.

"(Pierre-Louis) made more plays than anybody we have all summer long," Franklin said. "Swinton had been our most consistent guy. That's not an excuse. Everybody's got to come in and step up and do a good job."

By the end of the game, Auburn was so thin on outside receiver depth that Smith and Slaughter played virtually every play throughout the contest.

In response, the Tigers moved three receivers -- Mario Fannin, Darvin Adams and Tim Hawthorne -- to different positions.

Franklin and Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville made the moves thinking Swinton (knee) and Billings (hamstring) would miss Saturday's contest against Southern Mississippi. However, Tuberville said on Thursday that both receivers would play. Pierre-Louis, conversely, is out for the season.

The trio can still be expected to see most of their time on the outside since that's where all three players practiced this week.

Fannin and Hawthorne embraced the move and are both excited about more playing time.

"It's just more opportunity for catches and touches," Hawthorne said. "I'm looking forward to it. If they need me to go out there and play outside, I'll do it. It's been a pretty easy transition."

Adams, a true freshman, was not made available for comment this week.

Fannin, who has played tailback and slot receiver, is now working on his third position in 10 months.

Last week, the Tigers implemented Fannin in the run game from the slot, sending him in motion and giving him two handoffs. Fannin gained 21 yards on the two carries.

Especially on the outside, Fannin needs to be more of a receiving threat this week.

All Auburn receivers, in fact, are feeling some pressure to improve on last week's dismal performance in the passing game.

"We all made some mistakes," Fannin said. "We all missed some assignments. Basically, we've got to get out there this week, against a better team. That's something we're harping on now: Getting out there, playing with speed, and executing the plays well. If we do that, we shouldn't have a problem."

While Swinton and Billings are expected to play, the moves could still prove vital if there are more injuries since three players now know both the inside and outside positions.

Hawthorne said outside receiver is even easier than playing in the slot.

"Inside, you've got to worry about eluding a lot more people," Hawthorne said. "There's a lot more traffic in there with linebackers, nickelbacks and safeties, things like that. Outside, you really don't have to worry about anything but the cornerbacks. That's why you see a lot of balls going toward the outside."

That's also why Hawthorne had no reservations about making the move -- even if it doesn't result in more immediate playing time.

Burns improving

Auburn quarterback Kodi Burns practiced for the third consecutive day, but Tuberville is still hesitant to say he'll play Saturday when the Tigers host Southern Mississippi.

Burns, who started the season-opener, is recovering from a laceration on his shin.

"It's going to be a game-time decision whether he's going to (play) or not," Tuberville said. "He's got to get better. He's not 100 percent. He did practice, went through everything, jogged, running plays. He didn't have the burst like he normally has."

Several players said Tuesday that Burns looked good in his first day back at practice, but Tuberville said Burns must be effective as a runner to play this week.

Tuberville was pleased that Burns has not had any swelling around the gash.

Burns sustained the gash midway through the third quarter after he gained 16 yards on a scramble.

"It was just a flesh wound," Tuberville said. "You can imagine, seven or eight inch cut. Then you go out in that weather, sticky and pushing off of it every down. If we played today, he'd be very limited."

Chris Todd will start at quarterback, but if Burns plays, the two will split time again this week.

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