AUBURN, Ala. -- Safety Zac Etheridge has been cleared by Auburn’s medical staff to go live in Saturday’s scrimmage for the first time since suffering a serious neck injury last fall.
Etheridge, who tore ligaments in his neck and cracked one of his vertebrae last October against Ole Miss, missed all of spring practice and has been held out of full contact drills this August, despite being cleared medically in mid-July.
“I mean, it is a neck. It was a plan we had to work,” Etheridge said. “You can’t just throw me back out there. I’ve been out of the game for like six months, so you’ve got to give me time to get myself ready and physically.”
Etheridge had been given minimal clearance in the first few weeks of camp. He could participate in drills that involved light contact, but nothing major. Teammates could see him itching for contact, however.
“When we’re in skelly or whatever, we’re not supposed to hit, but you’ll see him just nudge somebody every now and then, just like he just wants to get a little bit in while he can,” linebacker Craig Stevens said. “So since he can go all out tomorrow, I’m pretty sure he’s going to let it out.”
Etheridge said he has no apprehension about going live again, nor does he feel like he’s behind in the competition. He’s working at free safety, Mike McNeil at strong safety and Aairon Savage at both.
Who’s first on Etheridge’s hit list?
“Whoever is in the way,” he said. “That’s going to be the first blow.”
Auburn will take a long look at its punt returners during today’s scrimmage, going live for some portions so they can get used to catching the ball under pressure.
“We’re going to send some live bullets at them,” said wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor, who oversees the group. “They haven’t been hit.”’
Taylor gave a pecking order at the position as of Friday: Quindarius Carr is at the top, followed by Darvin Adams, Trovon Reed and Jonathon Mincy.
“That order could be flipped in a heartbeat,” Taylor said. “The biggest thing you like is that they’re not letting the ball hit the ground. With punt return, it has to be a knack. If you have to teach a guy how to catch a punt, you’re probably down by seven. That’s probably where we were last year.”
Another watch list
Senior Wes Byrum was named to the watch list for the Lou Groza Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top place-kicker.
Byrum was a semifinalist for the award last year, when he set Auburn’s single-season place-kicker record for points in a season with 99. He was 15-for-16 on field goals and made all 54 of his extra points.
Byrum enters the season fifth on the school’s all-time scoring list with 240 points, needing 73 to pass John Vaughn (2003-06) for the top spot.
There are 30 players on the watch list. The winner will be announced Dec. 9.
The offense had a big day against the defense in the last scrimmage, something the latter took as a wake-up call.
“All the way up until the last scrimmage we’ve been getting nothing but praise about how good we were and how good we’ve been doing,” Stevens said. “And I guess just having a scrimmage like that just showed us that we’re not invincible. We’re going to have some bad times. It’s just trying to find a way to pull through it.”