Safety trying to return from career-threatening neck injury
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — Zac Etheridge did not participate in Auburn’s scrimmage Tuesday, the third time this year the safety sat out of live action at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
But, despite the season opener being only 17 days away, safeties coach Tommy Thigpen is not concerned about the senior, who is returning from a career-threatening neck injury last year.
“He’s been throwing his body in there in practice and what-not,” Thigpen said. “I saw him take on a 300-pound guard yesterday, and he went in and didn’t have any reservations about hitting it. So no, I don’t have any reservations. He’s full tilt and he hits people full speed.”
Etheridge tore ligaments in his neck and cracked his C5 vertebrae last October against Ole Miss, missing the season’s final five games. He sat out the spring but was cleared medically in mid-July.
Since then, Auburn’s coaches have taken a cautious approach with him, consulting with team doctors daily.
“The scrimmages I’m not worried about,” Thigpen said. “He’s one of those guys who plays the game like a golfer. He plays the game in his head quite a bit.”
Teammates said they miss Etheridge on the field, although they aren’t dwelling on his absence.
“We can always use Zac out there, just from a leadership standpoint,” linebacker Craig Stevens said. “You’ve just got to find a way to move along like last season. You never know what’s going to happen, what a season is going to bring.”
* It was Auburn’s third scrimmage in six days. “It’s been pretty taxing,” Chizik said. “That’s by design.” The Tigers have today off.
* In addition to catching two touchdown passes, wide receiver Kodi Burns stood out on the punt and kick return units as a blocker. “He’s trying to do everything to help us,” Chizik said.
* Linebacker Daren Bates forced the only turnover of the night, stripping Mario Fannin.
* Head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said they should have enough scrimmage film to start making decisions at positions up for grabs, like backup quarterback and right tackle.
Chizik awarded scholarships to three walk-ons — deep snapper Josh Harris, linebacker Wade Christopher and defensive back Woody Parramore.
“It was a great thing to see and they earned it,” Chizik said.
Harris, a junior from Carrollton, Ga., won the long snapping job for field goals, point after attempts and punts last year, duties he’ll have again this season.
Christopher, a junior from Vestavia Hills, Ala., made two tackles in six games last year and made the SEC academic honor roll.
Parramore, a senior from Montgomery, Ala., made six tackles last year against Louisiana Tech and Furman.
Three Auburn seniors — linebackers Josh Bynes and Stevens and cornerback Demond Washington — were named to major national award watch lists Tuesday.
Bynes and Stevens were two of 51 players named to the watch list for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker.
Washington is on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player.
Bynes, a first-team All-SEC preseason pick by the coaches, led Auburn and was sixth in the SEC with 104 tackles last year.
Stevens, a second-team selection, made 95 tackles last season, eight of which were for a loss.
Washington led the SEC and was sixth nationally, averaging a school-record 31.1 yards per kick return last year. He also returned punts and played cornerback and safety, starting near the end of the season in place of Etheridge.