Auburn, Ala.--Entering preseason practice, one position that Auburn had very little chance of encountering depth problems at was at running back where Brad Lester, Carl Stewart, Benjamin Tate, Mario Fannin and Tristan Davis were all looking for playing time for the Tigers. Now a little less than two weeks until the season opener, the only healthy players at the position are Lester and Tate.
With Fannin held out of practice until later this week nursing a sore groin, the return of Stewart to the practice field even in just a limited role has been a huge lift for the Auburn offense. Auburn's starting fullback and also an option at tailback, Stewart has been out since the second day of fall practice with a pulled hamstring in his right leg but he said on Tuesday he's getting closer to being back on the field.
"I think I should be back after the next couple of days, full speed," Stewart said. "They are letting me do limited practices right now. I'm still in rehab. They want to make sure I don't re-injure anything. Once I get full confidence in it they'll put me back out there.
"Hamstrings are just so difficult to deal with because you never want to re do those," he added. "I definitely don't want this to be a nagging injury throughout the season."
Stewart is back practicing but right now it's in a limited role only.
While Stewart is on the verge of returning to the field, Davis has a much longer time to watch before he can get back on the field. Stepped on by teammate Tommy Trott during a drill as the Tigers went through two-a-days, Davis said he continued to practice for several plays before realizing something wasn't quite right. Once he got the word that his toe was broken he said it was tough at first but soon he decided to concentrate his efforts on getting back as soon as possible. He says he's shooting for the Mississippi State game but game four against New Mexico State is more realistic.
"It can be a little bit discouraging but you've got to remember what you're here for, everything you've fought for, all the stuff in the summer," Davis said. "I know I can't let it go to waste just because I had a minor setback. It will probably be two or three games. I still have to go to meetings so I'm learning the plays. I have to keep in the playbook. It was kind of discouraging at the beginning but I'm getting back into it."
Much like Brandon Cox's injury became public knowledge last season when photos of his leg appeared on the internet, Davis' injury has also been witnessed by thousands after a shot of his toe appeared on message boards Monday. He said he's been getting calls for the last day with people wondering why he did that. His answer is he didn't, or at least not intentionally.
"It was kind of weird," Davis said. "I sent the picture to my cousin and he had a mobile upload to my account. He was trying to send it to my aunt and sent it to everybody on the list. I got calls like ‘what's wrong with your toe'. It was kind of weird to have my toe all over the world."
Both Davis and Stewart have continued to sit in on the running back meetings as Coach Eddie Gran gets his guys ready for Kansas State. Stewart said that having to sit and watch his teammates practice all this time without being able to join them has been tough and he's thankful it's almost over.
"It was killing me," Stewart said. "I was really excited about getting back out there and putting the pads on and then the first couple of days I get hurt. I was kind of disappointed I couldn't go out there and participate with my teammates. Seeing them struggle and me not kind of got me down a little bit. I'm back out there now. I've got fresh legs so hopefully I'll be able to do something."