AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn safety Zac Etheridge engaged in full contact for the first time this August, nearly 10 months after he was carted off the Jordan-Hare Stadium turf with a career-threatening neck injury.
“I was talking to Aairon Savage walking off the field and I was like, ‘Last time I came out here, I didn’t walk off the field,’” Etheridge said. “I’m just blessed to walk off the field after a scrimmage at the stadium.”
Etheridge tore ligaments in his neck and cracked one of his vertebrae last October against Mississippi, lying motionless on the field. Although he didn’t require surgery, he wore a restrictive neck brace for several months after the injury.
Etheridge didn’t participate in spring drills but received medical clearance in July to begin practice. Auburn brought him along slowly the first few weeks of training camp before doctors gave him the go-ahead for full contact Saturday.
The senior said he didn’t hesitate in his first live action since the injury.
“When I was out there, I was just having fun,” Etheridge said. “I didn’t think about it at all. I came up in some piles a little bit.”
The right fit
Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes still hasn’t seen enough to decide who will start at right tackle, the only starting position up for grabs on the offensive line.
He appears to be in no rush.
“I’m going to hold out as long as I can on that deal because I want those guys to keep working, keep battling,” he said. “Guys are all getting better, and that’s what is most important. We’d like to settle on a guy as soon as we can, but, really, it’s not the big priority for me.
“The much bigger priority is getting the best guys ready, and, either way, we’ve got to develop some depth. That’s something we didn’t have last year.”
Junior A.J. Greene, sophomore John Sullen and junior college transfer Brandon Mosley are vying for the starting job.
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn hasn’t gotten closer to designating a backup quarterback among senior Neil Caudle, sophomore Barrett Trotter and redshirt freshman Clint Moseley. Malzahn has been pleased with all of the quarterbacks, saying there isn’t a big gap between starter Cam Newton and the rest.
“It’s not as big as you think,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got four quality quarterbacks. Cam’s our starter, and, if something happens, we’d feel good about putting all of them in. And that’s pretty rare.”
I’ve never had it before.”