Auburn O-line picture getting clearer in 3rd week of camp
With 22 days until their season opener, the Tigers want every passing practice to yield progress toward finding the best possible starting five on the offensive line.
By the end of camp, head coach Gus Malzahn wants 10 Tigers up front that he can count on to start at a moment’s notice. The reasoning for that depth was exemplified this week, when Malzahn said 16 Auburn players are currently being held out of practice while quarantining after nine positive COVID-19 tests.
According to Auburn’s lone returning starter up front, junior center Nick Brahms, said there are “six or seven guys, maybe eight” rotating in as part of the starting group as Auburn nears the end of its third week of practices.
“Everybody’s going to have to step up,” Brahms said Friday. “We don’t know what the season’s going to look like, whether someone gets quarantined, someone gets hurt — God forbid — but everybody, it’s just a whole different year with depth this year. Everyone’s going to have to be ready in the room, whether you’re a freshman or a senior.”
Brahms’ insight is important. He focused in the offseason on developing close ties with new position coach Jack Bicknell Jr., who needs consistency and leadership out of Brahms as he attempts to piece together the rest of the O-line puzzle.
During Brahms’ Zoom session with local reporters, he went into significant detail on a number of starting candidates on the offensive line and how they’re progressing, giving context to what positions they're working at and a clearer picture of what the leaderboard might look like as of today.
• Brodarious Hamm is probably the most sure-fire pick of the lot to start somewhere on the offensive line, likely right tackle. Hamm said two weeks ago he's spending most of his time at right tackle (with the starting group) but coaches want him to be able to play on both the right and left sides.
• Hamm is becoming more of a vocal leader in the room as camp rolls on, Brahms said.
• Troxell has experience at guard but most of his work this fall camp has come at left tackle, where he appears to have a current edge over the field. He was Jack Driscoll's immediate backup at right tackle for all of 2018 before the third knee injury of his career knocked him out for the 2019 season, but Auburn has always envisioned the 6-foot-6, 312-pound Troxell protecting the blind side.
• Brahms said it "almost brings tears to my eyes" to see Troxell succeeding in camp and legitimately contending for a starting role after so many injuries. Like Hamm said earlier in camp, Brahms noted that Troxell started out rusty but is returning to form quickly. Hamm called Troxell a "technician" who might be the most fundamentally sound member of the unit.
• Former defensive lineman Alec Jackson was competing at left tackle at the start camp, Malzahn said, but is also seeing time at both guard spots to raise competition.
• "(Coach Bicknell) is even switching everybody from right to left guard to make sure that you can play one side or the other, or left tackle/right tackle, so we’ve been doing that," Brahms said. "I know Alec Jackson’s been moving to guard a little bit just to get competition there. If he’s one of the best five to play at guard, he’s going to play; that’s just how it goes."
• Brandon Council, who started games for Akron at every position on its offensive line with the exception of left guard, was viewed as a contender for a tackle position at the beginning of camp but has since been with the starting group working at both guard spots, Brahms said.
• Malzahn has raved about Council's ability to play anywhere on the line, and Brahms echoed that praise Friday.
• "I think what impresses me the most with him, though, is his versatility," Brahms said. "He can transfer his skills to tackle, guard. It’s pretty impressive to watch."
• At the other starting guard spot opposite Council is 6-foot-3, 324-pound junior Tashawn Manning. Bicknell is making players learn both sides of the line, so it's unclear who Auburn prefers where at guard.
• Rotating behind Council and Manning are 6-foot-3, 335-pound redshirt freshman Keiondre Jones and Jackson.
• "There’s some competition going on, and it’s fun," Brahms said of the battle for the starting guard positions. "It’s fun out there. Looking forward to it.”
• Jeremiah Wright "can drive some people" at guard, and Brahms predicts a future in the starting lineup for the true freshman. He's obviously a few notches down the depth chart this season, though.
• Unsurprisingly, Bicknell wants maximum consistency with his only returning starter, so Brahms said he isn't playing anywhere other than center right now.
• Brahms missed a "little bit" of practice earlier in camp, and while he was gone, Council slid over, while one of the other competing guards took Council's spot.
• However, Brahms claimed sophomore Jalil Irvin as his immediate backup. At 6-foot-2 and 310 pounds, Irvin played nearly a full game against Samford last season at right guard.
• Down the depth chart, freshmen Kamaar Bell, Avery Jernigan and Tate Johnson are also getting reps at center, Brahms said.
Auburn practices Friday before scrimmaging in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday morning. Malzahn will speak with reporters following the scrimmage.
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