Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fannin ready to get more carries

AUBURN — Last week, Mario Fannin led all tailbacks in carries.
Thursday, running backs coach Eddie Gran said that wasn’t because the Tigers were playing UT-Martin. It also wasn’t a fluke.
“His effort and his production could allow him to start this week,” Gran said.
Gran didn’t commit to Fannin starting, but said he wanted to get one of the three primary tailbacks more carries than the others.
Apparently, Fannin is leading the competition, with Ben Tate and Brad Lester trailing. Tate leads the team in rushing yards. Lester has started the most games this season.
Fannin appears to have passed each on the depth chart.
“I like the effort of Mario Fannin,” Gran said. “I like what he’s doing. He’s really come along here in the last three weeks. I think last week he got a pretty good dose of it — like 30 or so snaps — and I think he’s finally feeling comfortable at the running back position, being moved from receiver.”
Fannin became a part-time receiver when then-offensive coordinator Tony Franklin wanted to get him the ball in more ways.
When Fannin separated his shoulder during the spring, Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville decided to move him to receiver full-time.
Fannin graciously accepted the position change, but never fully adapted.
By midseason, Tuberville decided to move Fannin back to tailback.
Now Fannin has an opportunity to start the team’s final two games.
“He’s so physical. He brings that spark to the football team,” Gran said. “He’s downhill. He’s missed some holes where he should have been, but he’s not the only one who has done that. He just brings a spark because of his energy. I think he's a big-play guy.”
• SLOWING KNOWSHON: Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said Thursday that the key to slowing Georgia’s offense is eliminating the running game.
As many defenses have already realized, keeping Georgia tailback Knowshon Moreno bottled up isn’t easy.
“You get him wrapped up and you think he’s down and he slips away,” Rhoads said. “He’s fallen down and he plants a hand and keeps his balance and comes back out of there.
“I think he’s got a heavyweight fighter mentality, where he’s coming at you every round. He shows that by how fast he bounces up and runs back to the huddle. That sends a message. That’s an attitude that he sends to you that says, ‘You got to bring more than that because I’m here for all 60 minutes.’ If that gets to you with his success than that can wear you down.”
The Bulldogs have a strong passing attack, but Rhoads said a good portion of the passing game is based off play-action.
If the Tigers can slow Moreno, they wouldn’t have to honor the play-action game with safeties and linebackers.
“We’ve got to wrap up, we’ve got to gang tackle and we can’t be satisfied until the whistle blows and he’s on the ground,” Rhoads said.
• HULL KICKING: Tuberville publicly said he hadn’t made up his mind whether Wes Byrum or Morgan Hull would kickoff this week.
Gran, who doubles as the special teams coach, wasn’t so politically correct.
Hull, Gran said, will kickoff Saturday.
“He’s better,” Gran said. “He puts in the spot we want it. His hang time has been better. Those are the two biggest things. It’s a huge difference, and that’s what Hull has brought to the table for us — just a little bit more production, and in practice, too. It was good to get him last week to let him get into that game atmosphere.”
• PLAYING ‘UGLY’: After Auburn’s win Saturday, Rhoads said he found one critic who didn’t think his defense played very well — his wife.
“With all the yardage that was given up — my wife and I had a discussion about this Saturday, how it didn’t look very pretty — we gave up one big pass play all game long,” Rhoads said. “That was a game where we wanted to stop the run, which we did, and we wanted to control the pass, which I felt we did. And I agree, it didn’t look pretty all the time, but we accomplished our objective.”
UT-Martin, an FCS program, threw for 285 yards against Auburn. Most of those yards, though, came on passes of less than 20 yards.
Rhoads said he wasn’t pleased with his defense’s speed, but was happy to win.
“I think we played slow at times and didn’t execute very well,” Rhoads said. “I take personally in practice when we practice slow and don’t play very well.”
• INJURY REPORT: Rhoads said his defense’s biggest problem last week was the lack of pressure generated by what was mostly a second-team defensive line.
This week, he gets linemen Antonio Coleman, Tez Doolittle and Sen’Derrick Marks back.
“It’s probably immeasurable how much it helps,” Rhoads said. “You can’t play great defense without being good at the line of scrimmage, and having all those bodies back makes us better at the line of scrimmage. Those are good football players. They need to be out on the field for us to be successful, and they need to be out on the field healthy.”
The Tigers get all three defensive starters back this week.
They could get two more as well.
Tuberville said linebacker Merrill Johnson was doubtful because of a broken hand, but Rhoads said not only would Johnson play, he would be at full speed when the Tigers play the Bulldogs.
Receiver Montez Billings (broken nose) could also play this week. Tuberville declared him “doubtful” on Tuesday, but said he practiced some this week.
— Luke Brietzke

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