Tailback Ben Tate headed the group of projected starters sitting out practice Wednesday, when the team practiced for the 13th time in preseason camp.
Receiver Terrell Zachery, right guard Byron Isom and cornerback Neiko Thorpe all missed practice as well with injuries. All three are considered probable starters.
Isom’s injury left true freshman John Sullen working with the first-team offensive line.
In all, at least 12 Auburn players missed the practice.
Defensive lineman Zach Clayton, receiver John Cubelic, safety D’Antoine Hood, offensive linemen Bart Eddins and Darrell Roseman and linebackers Adam Herring, Spencer Pybus and Jonathan Evans all missed practice as well.
The injuries to Herring, Pybus and Evans are perhaps the most worrisome for the Tigers because of their linebacker depth problems. Eltoro Freeman was in shells, as was the rest of the team on Wednesday, but Freeman did not participate in the lone open period.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Tuesday that though Freeman’s right wrist is in a hard cast, his hamstring has kept him from practicing.
If all four are out of practice, it would leave Auburn with three scholarship linebackers.
STEPPING UP: When Auburn resumed practice on Tuesday, after a two-day break, true freshman safety Daren Bates worked exclusively with the first-team defense.
Chizik said his defensive staff wants to get a better chance to evaluate him and determine whether he can help the team right away.
After a strong start, Bates is now in contention for the starting free safety spot.
“I would say he’s going to be in the mix for that possibility,” Chizik said. “He’s a young guy that started late. He’s got so much catching up to do but showed some flashes in that scrimmage that I thought were really encouraging.”
With the first game less than three weeks away and projected starter Mike McNeil still recovering from a broken leg, Bates could start in the season opener.
“Physically, I think he’s got a chance to play in this league early,” Chizik said. “We just have to know mentally if he can do the things we ask him to do. He’s shown flashes every day he’s getting better.”
BACK AT END: Auburn’s depth issues weren’t enough to keep freshman Dee Ford at linebacker.
The Tigers pulled the plug on the short-lived experiment, deciding to put Ford back at his more natural defensive end position.
“Life as a linebacker ended,” Ford said. “I moved back to defensive end.”
Ford said he was happy to move back to his more natural position.
PHILLIPS IMPROVING: Chizik said Tuesday that he’s “fairly confident” offensive lineman Aubrey Phillips would again play football.
The true freshman suffered what Chizik termed a “non-football related episode of some things medically” during the first week of practice.
He has not since returned to the field.
“Aubrey is getting into the swing of everything trying to rehab and just addressing some issues, medically, we’re really going to have to watch,” Chizik said. “But he’s doing a great job. He’s in the flow of everything. He’s back in school. We’re very encouraged by where he’s at.”
The NCAA has not ruled on Phillips’ waiver he would need to play this season, though that might be a moot point with his medical condition.
QUICK OUTS: Josh Bynes was asked Tuesday who was working behind him at middle linebacker. His response: “You’ll have to ask coach about that.” That speaks volumes to Auburn’s depth at linebacker, doesn’t it? … Receivers coach Trooper Taylor, known for his outgoing, loud nature on the practice field, somehow managed to sneak up on tailback Dontae Aycock. During pre-practice warm-ups, Taylor snuck in behind Aycock and punched the ball out of the true freshman’s hands. Taylor celebrated the forced fumble by acting like he had just clinched the BCS Championship Game. Running backs coach Curtis Luper said Taylor’s fiery demeanor isn’t an act and that Taylor always has that much energy. … Yesterday I asked Mario Fannin to name a breakout player on each side of the ball. His picks: Onterio McCalebb and Freeman.
“I want to say Onterio. Onterio, he’s explosive and he works hard. He has the heart of a lion. So that’s him on offense.
“On defense, I’ll say Eltoro. A lot of people have high expectations for him, and I’m one of them. He’s going to play hard 24-7 and he’s going to give great effort.
“I know that in both of them, so I’m looking forward to seeing them play and getting in front of the fans and take that energy from them and play even better. I can’t wait.”