Auburn, Ala.--The quarterback situation will get much of the talk surrounding the Auburn Tigers heading into the 2017 football season, but it will be almost as important for Coach Herb Hand to find the right five guys up front on the offensive line.
Rotating personnel throughout spring practice to give him an idea of what the players looked like surrounded by different guys, Hand will have even more bodies to work with when the Tigers take the field in the preseason.
Joining the team this summer with a season left to play collegiately, grad transfers Wilson Bell from Florida State and Casey Dunn from Jacksonville State are both expected to jump into the mix for playing time right away along the interior of the offensive line. With bodies galore to work with, Coach Gus Malzahn said the goal is to get a look at them as quickly as possible so they can move forward.
“Obviously, you got to earn things,” Auburn's head coach said. “We brought the two fifth-year guys in for depth. They will be competing for playing time so it will be some good competition early. And if you remember, Coach Hand strategically moved people around in order to get information and mix and match.
“When you add the freshmen, and we got some freshmen now that we think are talented guys, there will be some really good competition early in fall camp. Obviously, you want five guys in the same positions sooner rather than later so that will be the big thing early in fall camp.”
Wilson Bell is a former starter for Florida State from Blount High in Prichard, Ala.
With starting experience and success at high levels, both Bell and Dunn should be able to hit the ground running now that they are on campus getting adjusted to the offense this summer. Malzahn said maturity and experience was a big reason why both were a priority for the Tigers in the offseason.
Coming in without experience is a trio of players Malzahn and the Tigers are expecting big things from. With Nick Brahms on campus since January as an early enrollee, Auburn welcomes Calvin Ashley and Austin Troxell this summer as two of the more heavily recruited linemen in the country.
With Troxell still recovering from a second knee injury last fall and Brahms rehabbing from a broken bone in his leg, Ashley is the most likely candidate of the three to play as a true freshman.
Nick Brahms is from Navarre, Fla., High School.
Checking in at 6-6, 350, Ashley is a massive offensive tackle prospect who will have a chance to play early for the Tigers. Redshirting Greg Robinson his first season, Auburn only got two years out of him before he bolted for the NFL. Malzahn said they’re hoping to avoid that with Ashley.
“Yeah, when we recruited him, we talked about that,” Malzahn said. “You can tell we’re getting good reports from the weight room and everything that goes with it so he will have his opportunity to show what he can do early in fall camp. I know he’s got that mindset that he wants to play right away so that’s always good for a young lineman, too.”