Todd Van Emst/Auburn athletics
Right tackle Austin Troxell (68) impressed coaches and teammates throughout Auburn's spring practices.

Auburn football: Underclassman RT surprises, proves he’s ready to challenge for starting spot this fall

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Who stood out most in spring practice?

When Auburn football started spring practice, many believed that Calvin Ashley was going to solidify his spot as the Tigers’ starting right tackle.

Yet, after several practices, it became clear that Austin Troxell had every intention of battling Ashley every step of the way for the job. In the weeks leading up to the spring game and then on A-Day, Troxell continued to distinguish himself, earning praise from coaches and teammates alike. In fact, Troxell was probably the player that surprised most with his emergence this spring.

“He’s pretty good,” said Prince Tega Wanogho, who will be a junior tackle in 2018. “I feel like he’s actually making great strides, too. He’s getting better every day at practice. I see that in him, too. He wants to get better, so that’s good.”

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It wasn’t surprising that Troxell proved capable. Still, it was at least somewhat surprising that the Gurley, Ala., native was making such a strong impression after suffering two ACL tears and missing so much time in recent years.

Even some of Auburn’s more experienced offensive linemen didn’t know what to expect from Troxell. The upperclassmen, including guard Mike Horton, quickly realized they shouldn’t judge the 6-foot-6, 292-pound tackle by his injury history.

As centers Nick Brahms and Kaleb Kim sustained a range of injuries leading up to the A-Day spring scrimmage, Troxell kept convincing offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey to call him a “bright spot,” continuing to improve each day.

I wasn’t really sure about him at first just because he had the knee injury,” Horton said. “He never really did much. He was always hurt. Now, seeing him playing is good; I’m happy for him. He looks real good right now.”

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Both Troxell and Ashley have benefited tremendously from the return of J.B. Grimes. Since the two have striking size and athleticism, the longtime offensive line coach can focus on what he’s best known for: teaching.

Going against each other with a significant spot on the line is only bringing out the best in both young players, too. Eventually, someone has to claim the job, but it likely won’t be official until weeks into Auburn’s fall camp.

“I feel like both of those guys are great competitors. I like the way they get after it,” junior guard Marquel Harrell said. “They just push each other, because at the end of the day when we go out there versus Washington, we’re only going to have five offensive linemen, and we only have one right tackle when we go out there. Those guys are going to get the best out of each other and continue to push.”

After the A-Day scrimmage, coach Gus Malzahn said he was encouraged by the way the offensive line had started to come together during the final week of camp. The coach also echoed, once more, how well Troxell had done.

“Austin really has come on,” Malzahn said. “I’m very impressed with him. Him and Calvin Ashley, there’s some great competition there. That’s two talented guys and they’re starting to come on. … That offensive line, especially the first-team offensive line, is really starting to come together. That was encouraging the last week of spring.”