Wes Byrum nailed all seven field-goal attempts during a drill early in Sunday’s practice. The streak included a 45-yard try with the team gathered to either side of him and some players – led by Neiko Thorpe – yelling in his face.
The performance was a far cry from the 2008 season when Byrum’s kicking struggles were chronicled throughout the year.
After the difficult season, he’s focusing on returning to the form that made him so good as a true freshman. Part of that meant overcoming not only the physical troubles, but also the mental aspect.
“Maybe the first week or two and summer it was a little mental, because you know I had a tough season and missing and that, but after that, I know I can do it, so I guess it was just more of getting back to my mechanics and fundamentals,” Byrum said.
The junior appears to have seized a solid lead in the kicking competition. He was the only kicker to attempt a field goal during the drill.
Byrum said he’s currently atop the depth chart, ahead of both Chandler Brooks and Morgan Hull. Brooks is currently nursing a quadriceps injury.
Byrum said that while he hasn’t locked up the position yet, he’s not worried about the competition.
“I’m just going to work on myself and keep getting myself better and where I need to be at to put myself in the best position to go on the field,” he said.
TOP BILLINGS?: The never-ending, confusing saga of receiver Montez Billings continues at Auburn.
In his first interview with reporters since the 2008 season, Billings confirmed that an academic issue has held him up, though he chose not to expand on it.
“I just had academic issues or whatever,” Billings said. “I graduated in May so everything will be all right.”
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said before SEC Media Days that Billings would play in 2009. He wasn’t yet sure when.
Add Billings to the list of people in the dark.
“I’m not sure,” Billings said. “You know, me and the coaching staff haven’t discussed anything but you know, I’m still out there working hard and trying to be a starting position.”
If anything, Billings actually further compounded the confusion instead of explaining it. He said the situation is “still ongoing.”
STANDING OUT: Chizik singled out Zach Clayton as the player who stood out to him during Sunday’s practice.
Because of depth issues, the junior is working at both defensive end and tackle.
“Every time I looked up today he was somewhere around the ball,” Chizik said. “Great effort guy. Really, really good effort. He stood out today.”
INJURY UPDATE: Offensive lineman Aubrey Phillips was again out of practice on Sunday. Chizik didn’t give a timetable on Phillips, though Chizik did say Phillips attended practice to see his teammates.
The Auburn coach also said Phillips has made some progress and is “fine.” There is no timetable for a return to football.
Auburn had several more players missing from action on Sunday, especially on defense. Linebackers Harris Gaston, Spencer Pybus and Adam Herring all sat out, as did defensive end Dee Ford, safety T’Sharvan Bell and offensive lineman Rudy Odom.
That is bad news for a team that’s already lacking in numbers.
The good news: DeAngelo "Voodoo" Benton was back in practice. He had a heavily padded glove on his right hand and his ring and pinky fingers were taped together, but Chizik said he practiced.
RETURNERS WANTED: Several players spent the beginning of Sunday’s practice by returning simulated kickoffs and live punts.
Receivers Terrell Zachery, Emory Blake, Travante Stallworth, Billings, Quindarius Carr and Anthony Gulley were out there. So, too, were cornerbacks Harry Adams, Neiko Thorpe, Demond Washington and Walt McFadden. Running backs Dontae Aycock, Onterio McCalebb, Mario Fannin, Ben Tate and Eric Smith also participated in the drill.
PAY ATTENTION: One of Chizik’s goals this season is to have every player pay attention to detail.
Freshman offensive lineman Andre Harris learned that lesson the hard way on Sunday.
During the team’s stretching period, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes got in Harris’ face and yelled at him for not having his helmet lined up properly. The players, as well as their helmets, are apparently supposed to be lined up 2 ½ yards away from each other.
Harris must have been lackluster with his alignment. Grimes’ brief rant included the detail that the freshman made the same mistake on Saturday.
NO PADS: Sunday was the first day the Tigers were allowed to practice in pads.
Chizik did not take that opportunity, deciding instead to have the team work out in shells.
“When you go in shells, to the players that’s physical, that’s very physical,” Chizik said. “You don’t tackle to the ground and things of that nature but for all intents and purposes, to the players, it’s like full pads.
“We’ve got plenty of time for that. We’ve got to practice really smart is what we got to do so we’ll evaluate that daily and see what kind of gear we need to go out in.”
He said the team would work out in full pads today when Auburn begins two-a-days, mostly to prepare the team for its first fall scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. That scrimmage is scheduled for Tuesday.
Chizik also said at least one of Monday’s practices would be very physical.