I’m kind of torn as to whether this is good news or bad news:
Safety Zac Etheridge is out for the rest of the season after suffering a neck injury against Ole Miss, head coach Gene Chizik said Sunday …
“In just talking with the doctors, it appears he’ll be out for the season,” Chizik said. “That being said, we’re hoping for a full recovery.”
When I said in Saturday’s Gameday post that we wouldn’t be able to celebrate a win over Ole Miss if Etheridge wasn’t “all right,” I was sort of thinking “can walk again / has full use of arms” as my definition for “all right”; it was the sort of injury scary enough that Etheridge’s career could be finished and we could still collectively think “It could have been worse.” If Chizik is right to hope for a full recovery–if all Etheridge lost in that nightmare moment was four games of football and the time necessary to rehabilitate his injury–then this news is a blessing. (More here.)
At the same time, that Chizik didn’t feel comfortable making a definitive statement about Etheridge’s recovery chances (not that that’s a surprise, knowing Chizik), that he’s gone for the remainder of the year, and that even a “full” recovery might not include playing football again sure takes the edge off yesterday’s victory. Ultimately, whether we’ll remember yesterday as a good day or a bad day will ultimately be decided if/when/how Etheridge returns. Here’s hoping (and praying) for the best for him.
It feels a little insensitive to even contemplate the football side of things here, but for the record: Chizik called Mike Slade “adequate” in Etheridge’s place — hardly a ringing endorsement from a head coach who’s said some very nice things about Anthony Gulley’s punt returning and Adam Herring’s linebacking this season. He refused to speculate on a starter for this week, other than to stipulate that it won’t be Mike McNeil.
So it’ll almost certainly be either Slade or T’Sharvan Bell, and either way, it’s another injury blow to a secondary that’s taken a ton of them since last spring. By and large I think Auburn’s been pretty fortunate on the injury front–Auburn’s starting lineup has lost zero games at quarterback, linebacker, offensive line, receiver, and running back combined*–but it hasn’t helped that of the four or five most serious injuries Auburn’s suffered, three of them (Savage, McNeil, now Etheridge, not to mention McFadden’s nagging ailments and Hood’s high-ankle sprain) have come in the secondary. If Thigpen, Lolley, and Roof find a way to keep the likes of A.J. Green and Julio Jones in relative check down the stretch even after all of this (and Harry Adams’ dismissal), they’ll have seriously earned their paychecks.
*If you want to consider Tim Hawthorne a starter before his foot injury, or assume Spencer Pybus would have started in Freeman’s place rather than Herring during Eltoro’s struggles, or consider McCalebb a starter, maybe you can find a few games here and there. But by my count, the secondary and defensive line are the only place on the team an Auburn starter has missed a game due to injury.