AUBURN, Ala. -- Of the starting spots in Auburn’s lineup, only one is truly up for grabs -- right tackle -- as the Tigers reach the two-week mark before their season opener1C553060.
Junior A.J. Greene, sophomore John Sullen and junior college transfer Brandon Mosley are in a three-man race to replace the graduated Andrew McCain. Roszell Gayden has fallen out of the picture because of a nagging knee injury.
“We’re starting to have a good idea,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “But we want to give it one more scrimmage (today), just to be completely sure before we set some kind of order.”
That the rest of Auburn’s offensive line is so experienced helps. Left tackle Lee Ziemba, left guard Mike Berry, center Ryan Pugh and right guard Byron Isom have combined for 108 career starts, second most in the SEC to Georgia’s returning group, which has 127 combined starts.
Still, Auburn’s linemen say there’s an unspoken communication that develops along the line that comes from playing together. The sooner someone wins the job, the better.
“It’s very important because it’s the only position where you need all five guys on the same page,” Berry said. “If one of us doesn’t do our job, then we all haven’t done our job.”
Sullen, who spent most of last year as a backup guard, has been the first player mentioned at the position by coaches for most of August. The sophomore has been highly regarded, mostly for reshaping his body from a portly 357 pounds when he first arrived to the svelte 305 he is now.
“I don’t think it would have been impossible for him to compete before he lost the weight,” offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “He’s really done well.”
But he has plenty of competition.
Mosley, who joined the team in the winter from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, was a tight end before coming to Auburn.
He’s packed on close to 20 pounds since, so size is not a concern. His comfort with the position is.
“In terms of technique, I think it was all so new to him in the spring he struggled,” Grimes said. “But his fall, you see a lot of improvement.
“He knows competing for a job, and in order to win that job, he’s got to learn how to do things. For him, it’s not so much what to do and who to block, it’s about learning the position in the offensive line.”
The other candidate is Greene, a Tennessee high school teammate of Berry who accomplished little during the first three years of his college career, when he switched from defense to offense.
“I just told myself, I’ve been up here too long and it’s time for me to just step up and do what I need to do,” Greene said. “So I just turned a light switch on and got focused on doing what I needed to do and it’s just been paying off.”
“I think when you see the chance to get significant playing time, you’re going to see a sense of urgency in a player,” Pugh said. “I know he’s a fourth-year guy, and really hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do, but he’s seizing moment to show what he can do.”
It’s no guarantee that one player will win the job. Grimes has no reservations about rotating players if there is a dead heat in the competition.
The limited available reps has brought the best out of the candidates.
“You’ve got to be precise on everything,” Greene said. “You’ve got to know your plays, you’ve got to do what you know is best and you’ve got to focus on what you know how to do the best and perfect it.”