Auburn football: Despite spirited position battle, Shon Coleman's sole focus on team goals

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 29, 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. — Every practice, Shon Coleman hits the field knowing he’s a co-starter at left tackle.

Nothing more, nothing less. Auburn’s coaching staff has declared an open competition for the starting left tackle spot; depending on the practice, either Coleman or Patrick Miller takes reps with the first-team offense. All the coaches care about is seeing both players give their best effort. As for updates on where they stand? Forget about it.

Coleman wouldn’t have it any other way.

“They just let us go out there and get after it,” he said following Saturday’s practice, which marked the Tigers’ first scrimmage of the spring. “We just switch it up every time. … I like how it is now.”

Saturday, Coleman was the first man up. As the scrimmage progressed, however, Miller got his fair share of snaps as well. By the end of it, Gus Malzahn said both had “probably” been on the field for the same number of plays.

“We have been doing that,” Auburn’s coach said. “One guy will start out at practice first and the next guy will start out practice second. Once it gets going both guys were pretty much equal. Like we’ve said, we probably won’t make a decision and may not make a decision even after spring. Both of those guys are veteran guys and we feel like both of them have a starter-type mentality and talent.”

Coleman said it hasn’t been a “bad thing” to rotate constantly.

“We just go out there and help each other work on certain things we need to work on,” the third-year sophomore said. “And we just watch each other on film and it gets the both of us better.”

One way Coleman said he has improved is through simple observation. After all, backing up a player considered a sure-fire top five NFL draft pick can’t hurt.

“Greg is a great player, so you can learn anything from him,” he said of Greg Robinson. “You can always pick up some stuff from him. Repping behind him and watching how he plays really got me better and really showed me how I need to play to be an SEC offensive tackle.”

It came as no surprise to Coleman that his mentor decided to forgo his final two seasons on the Plains to pursue a pro career.

“I knew he was going to go,” he said. “Greg’s a great player. He’s one of the best tackles I’ve ever seen. I knew there was going to be a chance for him to go to the NFL. He’s making something of himself right now.”

He still keeps in touch with Robinson, who dips into Auburn’s Athletic Complex from time to time as he continues to prepare for May’s draft. However, when they run into each other, Coleman says the topic rarely turns to football. Instead, they enjoy chit-chatting about everyday life.

Football is never too far away, though, as Coleman admitted he hopes he’ll be able to join Robinson in the NFL one day.

“I have a dream that I work to every day and I just work toward that goal,” he said, “and (hopefully) I’m blessed enough to get in that position.”

But that’s not what Coleman is focused on now. In fact, he said beating out Miller isn’t even his top priority. If he doesn’t win the starting job, it won’t bother him as long as the team as a whole has benefited.

A return to the national championship game is the only thing in his sights.

“That was the best feeling in the world," he said. "So I’m just trying to help the team as much as I can to do my part to get us back to that.”

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