A six-foot-five, 298-pounder who signed out of Cedar Grove High along with McNeill in February of 2002, Palmer was a high-profile recruit himself. Like most freshman offensive linemen, he was redshirted during his first collegiate fall. McNeill was an exception as he took over as a starter at strongside tackle after starter Taylor Bourgeois was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
"Jonathan is definitely making progress out there," says head coach Tommy Tuberville, who has put his Tigers through 11 of the 15 allotted spring practices. The Tigers are not practicing again until Tuesday because the university has no classes this week during spring break.
Palmer says he believes that he is getting better, too. "I feel like I am definitely making progress," he says. "I am getting better with my quick sets and my footwork. I have always had the ability to do everything. I have been working on getting everything down pat and adjusting to the speed of the game."
Palmer began the spring at guard and played well there. Currently, offensive coordinator and line coach Hugh Nall is giving Palmer a look at tackle. Nall, a hard man to please, says that he is seeing some encouraging signs out of the redshirt freshman. "Number one, he is a good kid and a good athlete," Nall notes. "He has really made progress at learning to become physical in his pass protection. He is also being more physical in his run blocking. Overall, I think being physical is where he has made his most improvement.
"Right now the big thing for Jonathan is knowing what to do," Nall adds. "He has been at a disadvantage moving to offensive tackle and he has made some mistakes, but I have noticed that they have been full speed mistakes. He is blocking the wrong people the right way so we can correct that. He has come a long way since last season."
Palmer admits he doesn't feel comfortable yet at tackle. "Personally, I like weak guard better," he says. "I could like tackle, but I don't know too much yet. If I figure out how to play tackle, I think I would like it."
Palmer says it is a big adjustment playing against speedy defensive ends who he has to chase to block as opposed to being in the middle of the action at guard where he began the spring No. 2 on the depth chart behind Monreko Crittenden. "I am still working on getting my kick slide down pat so I can block those fast ends," he says. "At guard, usually your man is right on you and they aren't as fast as the defensive ends. The ends sometimes line up two men off of you and they are faster than the offensive linemen."
Palmer, who played both offense and defense at Cedar Grove High in Ellenwood, Ga., did play some offensive tackle before he got to Auburn so the position was totally new to him when he moved outside last week. "One of the backup offensive tackles (Ryan Broome, back spasms) went down," Palmer says. "Coach Nall told me I had to move to tackle. I played offensive tackle in high school, but it is totally different playing there in college."
Palmer used his redshirt fall to learn Auburn's offense and get stronger so he can cope with the competition in the always tough Southeastern Conference. "I have been in the weight room working hard," he says. "Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) has made sure that I am getting stronger."
Palmer also sees some signs that the offense as a whole is getting stronger. "We are making some big jumps, but we can't get the big head," he says. "Everybody is talking about the national championship, but what we need to do is not worry about that and work hard to get better."