AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football’s first day of fall camp in the Auburn Athletics Complex included a lot of mixing and matching, particularly along the offensive line.
Still, there was one glaring difference from last year and it’s a welcome change for coach Gus Malzahn.
“I think the depth and really quality depth has a chance to be one of our strengths,” Malzahn said following Auburn’s first workout on Monday. “It’s just a matter of who the starters are going to be because I’m real big and I know Chip (Lindsey) is real big on getting guys and getting the continuity and everything that goes with that.”
One of Auburn’s biggest priorities during fall camp will be settling on a five-man rotation on the offensive line. During the 20-minute media viewing period at the beginning of a split practice Austin Golson (C), Braden Smith (RT) and Darius James (LT) were in their expected spots on the offensive line. Mike Horton started out at right guard while Marquel Harrell stepped in left guard.
When the second team offense took the field Prince Tega Wanogho (LT), Brodarious Hamm (LG), Casey Dunn (C), Wilson Bell (RG) and Bailey Sharp (RT) stepped in along the line.
There’s a different kind of anticipation about the second team, though, even on the first day of preseason practices.
“I think we have a got a lot of depth this year not that we haven’t in the past, but I think we have a two-deep that can play in this league,” senior center Austin Golson said. “I’m really excited about that.”
The mixing and matching was by design and there will be more of it in the coming weeks. Malzahn said offensive line coach Herb Hand and coordinator Chip Lindsey have a set plan to figure out what will work for the Tigers this season.
“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,” Malzahn said. “There’s nothing better than knowing exactly the communication with the guy beside you. There’s some good competition up there too.”
Malzahn has been hoping to see more competition heading into his fifth season on the Plains. Now that it’s raring, he’s already seeing how it will have a positive impact.
“I think that’s a good thing,” Malzahn said. “It kind of goes back to the quarterback. We’v got some great competition there and it does nothing but bring out the best in those guys.”
Typically out of the limelight, Auburn’s offensive linemen know they’ll be moved around and are prepared to help out wherever they’re needed.
The potential moves could become more apparent as Auburn familiarizes even more so with graduate transfers Casey Dunn and Wilson Bell.
“Right now, I’m just trying to do the best I can at center,” Golson said on Monday evening. “I know that if I’m needed somewhere else, I’ll do it, and obviously Casey (Dunn) is a good player, so he’ll be able to step in if I need to move—or if coach decides to play him at guard, whatever the case may be.”
And make no mistake, the competition is wide open.
“There’s no solidified spots on the offensive line, even though like me and Braden have been playing for three or four years,” Golson said. “We know we have to come to work every single day and that if we don’t do our job, we won’t be out there.”