AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football returns a starter at center this fall in Austin Golson. But the big man from Prattville, Ala., could be on the move again in 2017 thanks to the presence of another in-state product.
Casey Dunn will be one of two graduate transfer offensive linemen making their official practice debuts this week for Auburn. Dunn comes from Jacksonville State, where he had a standout career at the FCS level.
“Casey Dunn was a phenomenal player at Jacksonville State, two-time All-American,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said at SEC Media Days. “He’s a big guy. He’s a smart guy.”
The 6-foot-4, 292-pound Dunn will compete for playing time immediately with Golson, who started 2016 at left tackle but moved back to his old position at center after Xavier Dampeer’s midseason injury.
Dunn started for two seasons at center for Jacksonville State, which went to the FCS championship game in 2015 after nearly upsetting Auburn early in the season. The Gamecocks led their conference in offense behind Dunn and the rest of a strong offensive line.
According to senior right tackle Braden Smith, Dunn has stayed mostly in the middle during summer workouts, but he could see time at another position.
“He’s been working at center, maybe a little bit of guard, but primarily those two positions right now,” Smith said. “Kind of get a feel for the offense with the new guy coming in trying to learn a little bit.”
Auburn will replace both of its starting guards this season with Alex Kozan’s departure and Smith’s move to right tackle. Fellow graduate transfer Wilson Bell, who arrived this summer from Florida State, is widely expected to start in 2017.
Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand said this spring he expects Dunn to fit in right away with the Tigers’ veteran offensive line.
“He’s got great experience, obviously,” Hand said in March. “Not only just playing and being a starter, he played against Auburn. He’s played against LSU. It’s not week-in and week-out, but he’s played against high-caliber people. But it’s more so the experience, and that he’s excelled at it.
“You’re talking about a guy that’s been an All-American. He brings that in. He’s got good football smarts. He’s a high IQ guy, he’s mature. He seems to be [ready] from a leadership standpoint. He’s got a great personality.”
Hand said Auburn will “obviously” put Dunn at center when camp begins, and the second-year assistant added he was excited to see what the senior can do.
If he doesn’t take over a starting job on the Auburn offensive line from the beginning, he’ll serve as a valuable depth piece for a line that’s had to move some people around in recent seasons due to injury.
“The depth up front on our offense has been as good as it’s been,” Malzahn said. “You can’t have enough depth on the offensive line in our league.”