Auburn football: Tigers taking left tackle competition 'day-to-day'

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 20, 2014 

Auburn Football

Shon Coleman (7) battled Patrick Miller to win Auburn's starting left tackle job this spring.

TODD J. VAN EMST — Auburn University

AUBURN, Ala.Rhett Lashlee understands the logic that there will be some dropoff in the quality of play at Auburn’s left tackle position this fall.

After all, replacing a player as talented as Greg Robinson — considered a consensus top 10 pick in May’s NFL draft, with the possibility of being taken No. 1 overall — isn’t something most teams are able to do easily. But Lashlee isn’t worried. First, he noted the experienced players competing for the spot, with Patrick Miller and Shon Coleman splitting time with the first team. Then he brought up J.B. Grimes , the offensive line coach who worked wonders with the unit last year, as it paved the way for the nation’s top-ranked rushing attack.

Yes, Lashlee said, the Tigers will be fine.

“I have a lot of confidence they are going to fit in,” Auburn's offensive coordinator said Thursday. “Those guys got a lot of reps. Both Pat and Shon played last year so it’s not like they are true freshmen trying to break in.”

At this point, the two are neck-and-neck at the top in a four-way battle.

“Between Pat and Shon there is really no separation at all,” Lashlee said. “We haven’t even put pads on. Coach Grimes is kind of rotating them. We just kind of take it day-to-day. That could shift daily.”

The ever-changing face of the left tackle position doesn’t concern Chad Slade. Back for his fourth year as a starter on the offensive line, the senior right guard has worked alongside countless players in practices and games the last four seasons.

In his view, whoever wins the left tackle job has earned it by securing the trust of the coaching staff.

“No matter who it is, it’s going to be a good replacement,” Slade said. “We’re going to work with him, and we’re going to get him connected just like Greg was connected with us. We’re not going to play as five. We’re all going to play as one. That’s what our motto is. Whoever coach puts there, we’re going to make him just like he was Greg.”

Avery Young, the starting right tackle for the final 10 games of last season, was once thought to be a candidate for left tackle. After mulling it over, however, Lashlee said the coaching staff decided it was best to leave Young on the right side.

“Right now he is. The thing about Avery is that you can see he really matured last year,” Lashlee said. “I think he could develop into a big leader for us up there along with Reese (Dismukes) and (Alex) Kozan. Avery is a versatile kid. He is talented enough to play all the spots, I believe. We’re going to keep him at right tackle right now and we have no plans to do anything different.”

In a perfect world, Robinson’s successor will emerge by the end of the spring — if not sooner. But Gus Malzahn has been around long enough to know things don’t always go so smoothly.

“You would like to have as many answers as possible moving forward to summer so they can work in one position and get better on their own,” Auburn’s coach said. “And then (they can) show up in the fall ready to go.”

The last thing Lashlee wants the players focusing on is the depth chart, though. That’s for others to agonize over.

If the players fighting for the starting spot aren’t doing everything they can to make their improvement easily noticeable, Lashlee said it would be a case of misplaced priorities.

“What we’ve told our guys is that we’ve got people worried about who’s one and who’s two and who’s three,” he said. “We’re going to shuffle some things around through the spring. We’re more worried about — and want them to be concerned about — where we are at the end of the spring. After practice 15, now where are you at on the depth chart? That’s when it will matter.”

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