AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn doesn’t have a bye the first 11 weeks of the season, not getting a break in the schedule until Nov. 21.
That’s a concern for a team with depth problems across the board, especially at linebacker, where the Tigers already have struggled to keep three healthy scholarship players on the field this preseason.
“(Defensive coordinator Ted) Roof and I are in constant discussion about the ‘what ifs,’ ” head coach Gene Chizik said Wednesday. “We’ve got 14 more weeks before we get a break, give or take, so we’re very conscious of that and you have to have a plan if (an injury) happens. And it very well could. Those plans generally are being able to sub and do different packages that require less linebackers. We’ve got a plan.”
One option is to play more nickel package, which requires only two linebackers and five defensive backs, although players have said the Tigers have primarily worked in their base defense this month.
Even in the nickel, depth is a concern. Auburn has used starting safety Zac Etheridge, a 6-foot, 212-pound junior, in the nickelback role, a spot usually reserved for a third cornerback who is quicker.
“Zac is kind of one of those hybrid guys that is in between a safety and a corner,” Chizik said. “He’s able to do some of those things. Typically your nickel guy is a third corner. But as we alluded to earlier, we’re not stacked up at corner either.”
Wide receiver Tim Hawthorne and safety Mike McNeil will remain sidelined well into the season, according to a report on ESPN.com.
ESPN.com blogger Chris Low spoke to Auburn coaches Thursday and reported that Hawthorne, who broke his foot in July, would be out at least the first four games. Low reported that McNeil, who broke his leg during a scrimmage last April, would be back at the earliest by midseason.
Chizik did not meet with members of the local media Thursday night, but he has not provided specific information about either player’s recovery schedule when asked on previous occasions.
The Auburn Tigers had high hopes for Hawthorne, who emerged in the spring as the No. 1 receiving threat. Terrell Zachery, Darvin Adams and Montez Billings are currently the frontrunners to start.
Auburn has rotated a variety of players in McNeil’s place, including sophomores Drew Cole and Mike Slade, converted cornerbacks T’Sharvan Bell and D’Antoine Hood and true freshman Daren Bates. Attention gamers
One of Chizik’s moves this offseason was to set up a well-stocked game room for players in the athletic complex, one that includes a few video games systems, a pingpong table and a pool table.
“You want to talk about being physical, we’re fighting all over those video games,” cornerback Walt McFadden said. “Everybody kind of got excited and we’re fighting over things.”
McFadden claims to be the best at the college football video games. He’s gone as far as to update the rosters to better reflect the actual teams, and he takes the results very seriously.
“I’ve got to get my wins in,” he said. “I hate losing.”
As the only fifth-year senior in the secondary, McFadden has embraced his elder statesman role, taking younger cornerbacks such as Demond Washington and Harry Adams under his wing.
They’ve repaid him by calling him “Daddy.”
“I’m trying to get away from that,” said McFadden, who is only 22 years old. “I’m still their age, you know? We can still can have fun together, you know? … Harry Adams (will say), ‘Daddy Walt. Daddy Walt. How do I stop this? How do I make this a better situation to defend this receiver better?’ He always asks ‘Daddy Walt, Daddy Walt.’ ”
McFadden plays along, even calling walk-on Rodney Cofield, a 5-foot-7, 167-pound freshman, “Baby Cofield.” But it still reminds McFadden that he’s only one of seven players left on the roster from the 2005 recruiting class.
“I feel old over there,” he said.