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After serving a six-game academic suspension, Auburn tailback Brad Lester will make his much anticipated season debut Saturday against Vanderbilt.
Lester entered the fall as the projected starter after rushing for 848 yards and 14 touchdowns as a backup the last two seasons. But don’t expect the junior to trot out on the field early in the first quarter against the Dores.
|AP: Todd Van Emst|
|Lester has scored 17 career touchdowns.|
“(Lester) won’t start. He’ll have a role to play,” said AU head coach Tommy Tuberville. “This is the first game of the season for him. First games are tough because you’re usually not in playing shape even thought he has been practicing a lot.”
Sophomore Ben Tate, who leads the Tigers with 410 rushing yards, is expected to start his sixth consecutive game Saturday. Redshirt freshman Mario Fannin, who is second on the team with 267 rushing yards, will be the primary backup.
“Ben Tate and Mario both will play before (Lester),” said Tuberville. “He will play some, depending on how he does and how he handles the situation will determine how much. He’ll earn more and more playing time.
“The other two guys have put a lot into the first five games.”
Once Lester makes it into the game, he should provide a lift for an AU rushing offense that’s eighth in the SEC averaging 146.2 yards per game. His teammates are definitely excited about the possibilities.
“It’s exciting,” said center Jason Bosley. “I’ve been looking forward to it. I asked him every week, ‘When you coming back, when you coming back?’ And finally, he’s coming back. He’s a playmaker. He scores touchdowns.”
While Tate and Fannin have both shown improvement over the course of the season, Lester’s experience and fresh legs will be a welcome addition to the lineup.
“He’s so quick and he hits the hole,” said Bosley. “When you get out in open space and he’s behind you, he sets up the block real well and he’ll cut it right off you. He hits it so fast and keeps his feet going. He runs over people.”
Offensive coordinator Al Borges is counting on Lester to provide more scoring for an offense that ranks 10th in the SEC with 27.0 points per game.
“He’s a big-play kind of guy,” said Borges. “He’s fresh and he’s fired up to play. Brad Lester, when he’s right, is worth a touchdown or two a game. If you give him enough room to do it, he’ll do it.”
In addition to playing backup tailback, Lester is also expected to return kicks against the Commodores.
***LB Merrill Johnson returned to practice Tuesday but his status for the Vandy game remains uncertain. Johnson has missed the last three games with a severely bruised shoulder.
“Merrill practiced some Tuesday,” said Tuberville.
***DE Quentin Groves will have a second set of x-rays Tuesday on his dislocated toes. He’s expected to miss a couple of weeks.
“He’s still sore,” said Tuberville. “He did not practice. We’ll have to see how that comes out.”
Groves will be the fifth defensive starter to miss a game due to injury this season.
“It’s getting pretty serious with the injuries. It’s hard to improve when you don’t have guys out there in practice.”
***Tuberville needs one more victory to become the fifth active coach in the SEC with 100 career coaching wins.
***Of Auburn’s 135 points scored this season, 111 (82.2 percent) have been scored by underclassmen.
***The Tigers practiced for more than two hours in full pads Tuesday morning. It was another physical workout according to Tuberville.
“We didn’t have a great practice so we did some things to get their attention,” he said.
***Auburn hosts Vanderbilt Saturday at 11:30 a.m. CT in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game will be carried live on Lincoln Financial Sports.