AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football could return as many as eight offensive starters in 2017. But Gus Malzahn sees competition across the depth chart, and he wants two good weeks of it in fall camp.
When asked about position battles during his first news conference of fall camp Monday night, Malzahn referred to a “two-week mark” several times. That’s when Auburn’s coach wants to lock into a starting group for first-year coordinator Chip Lindsey’s offense.
“This first probably two weeks, offense is going to [have] some great competition, and then really feel like things will start to settle in after that two-week mark,” Malzahn said. “That’s kind of the plan. But overall, there’s a bunch of guys out there that are in the mix for playing time.”
Auburn football opened its 2017 fall camp Monday. It will practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday before starting its second week next Monday. The schedule will be similar in Week 2, with off days on Thursday and Sunday.
So by Aug. 14, expect to see decisions made in key battles all across the offense.
“Up front, I know [offensive line coach Herb] Hand, we’ve got some good competition,” Malzahn said. “He was mixing and matching up front. I know Chip rotated the quarterbacks. … Receivers, there’s some great competition going on there.”
While Auburn’s quarterback battle between transfer Jarrett Stidham and returning starter Sean White will get the most attention this fall, it’s almost a foregone conclusion Stidham will win the job.
The real intrigue on offense comes on the line, where a couple new additions could change everything for the Tigers.
In pace and pass protection drills Monday, Auburn’s first-team offensive line featured left tackle Darius James, left guard Marquel Harrell, center Austin Golson, right guard Mike Horton, and right tackle Braden Smith.
Graduate transfers Casey Dunn and Wilson Bell lined up with the second team at center and right guard, respectively. Bell will most likely take one of Auburn’s two vacant starting jobs at guard, while Dunn will compete with the senior Golson at center. Either one of those centers could play guard in 2017, and Golson played left tackle to start last season.
All that versatility up front means Hand will have a lot of mixing and matching to do in the first two weeks.
“Coach Hand’s got that plan that’s been thought out, and I feel very good about it,” Malzahn said. “I know Chip does, too, about putting guys in some different positions.
“It’s just a matter of what five guys give us the best chance of being successful, and putting those guys together and working that continuity, because there’s nothing better than knowing exactly the communication with the guy beside you.”
The Tigers are focused on having a solid starting five selected before fall camp swings into game preparation for the Sept. 2 season-opener against Georgia Southern.
“I would like that, if that’s for sure who needs to be on the field,” Golson said Monday. “That way we can start jelling together and building camaraderie between the five. But we’ll do whatever it takes.”
That could mean a position change for Golson, who looked more settled at center than left tackle last season. He said he is ready for the challenge, as the massive amount of depth Auburn has up front means more motivation to improve in camp.
“That only brings out the best in everybody else, so anytime you can have that many guys who can play,” Golson said, “then it has to bring out the best in you if you want to play.”