CARBONDALE — Roman Tatum, SIU's starting cornerback who broke a bone through his toe right before training camp began in August, could return to the field this weekend against Illinois State.
Tatum, a 5-foot-10, 178-pound senior, started 10 games last season and was expected to begin this year opposite Craig James. The fifth-year player hurt himself at home and was expected to miss between at least 4-6 weeks after the surgery. SIU coach Nick Hill even talked about him potentially missing the season, but Tatum began running at practice last week and is expected to be a full-go at Tuesday's first workout of the week.
"He's really a month ahead of schedule. I don't know how he's done it, but he's out there," Hill said at his weekly press conference Monday. "Even the orthopedic doctor kind of shrugs his shoulders. He's gonna play."
SIU (2-3, 0-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference) dropped its third straight game Saturday at No. 8/9 South Dakota State, 49-14. The Salukis allowed four passing touchdowns from last year's MVFC offensive player of the year, Taryn Christion, and still has to play three of the top-four passing teams in the league.
Third-year sophomore Tory Lewis started Saturday's game opposite James and had one tackle before getting injured. Lewis, who is coming back from ACL surgery last year, has a good chance to play this weekend, Hill said. James has 18 tackles, the sixth-most on the team, and leads the Salukis with six pass breakups.
SIU hosts No. 15/17 Illinois State (4-1, 2-0) Saturday at 2 p.m. The Redbirds average 259.4 yards a game through the air, fourth-best in the Valley.
Tatum played two years at Delaware (2013-14) with 65 tackles and seven pass breakups in 24 games before transferring to SIU in 2016. He left the Blue Hens in the spring of 2015 and did not play that fall.
Hill said if there was a chance Tatum could come back and play this season, he was likely going to try because the chances of him getting a sixth year were about 50-50. Normally, players have to miss two years with injuries to get that sixth year, Hill said, and he did not want to take the chance of Tatum sitting out and not getting anther chance to play if he was denied that sixth season.
SIU is already without backup cornerback C.J. Jennings, who tore his ACL at Southeast Missouri State in the second game of the year. The Salukis have used Jefferson Vea and James Ceasar, two former corners who moved to safety this year, behind James and Lewis.
Defensive tackle Malik Haynes and linebacker Markese Jackson are also on pace to return this weekend after missing Saturday's game because of injury, Hill said. Haynes, who started the first four games, missed Saturday's game after suffering a migraine headache Friday night. Jackson, a backup inside linebacker, is recovering from a knee injury suffered at Memphis.