Spring Football Preview: Centers

Auburn, Ala.--Few areas of the Auburn football team will be going through bigger changes than the offensive front.

The Tigers must replace graduating starters Kendall Simmons, Mike Pucillo and Hart McGarry.

Another starter, junior-to-be Monreko Crittenden, is expected to change positions leaving center Ben Nowland as the only expected constant in the starting lineup.

Ben Nowland

Last, but probably not least, the Auburn centers, guards and tackles will be learning a new offensive system being put in by new coordinator Bobby Petrino.

The position that looks most solid is center, where 6-3, 298-pound Nowland is bidding to become a third-year starter as a fifth-year senior. He started every game last year with the exception of the Vandy contest when he was sidelined with a knee sprain that he suffered at Syracuse.

Ben Nowland started 11 times last season.

In Nowland's absence, true freshman Danny Lindsey made the start in Nashville and handled himself well. He played center in seven games last year even though he was hiding a foot injury from the coaches that turned out to be a cracked bone when the freshman had it checked after the season. (Lindsey was worried if he told the doctors he was hurt he would be benched for the rest of the season.) Lindsey was just cleared to practice this spring after wearing a boot to protect the injury.

"I think that the big thing at center is to truly identify who is number one there," offensive line coach Hugh Nall tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "You know, I think that, going in, you have got to give the nod to Ben. But there were some things that happened during the year when Danny truly showed some real promise. I think there will be a lot of competition."

Nall says he was concerned about Lindsey's availability for spring drills due to the foot injury, but says he has just received word that the true sophomore has the green light to practice full speed. "That is what I was told, but we'll just have to see how that goes," Nall says.

Danny Lindsey (68) is shown in action last spring after he took early graduation from high school.

"And then, I think the big thing is to determine who the number three center is going to be. Jeremy Ingle is listed there now and should be a lot better than he was last fall, but he's got a lot of things to improve on.

Jeremy Ingle

"And the other kid who could move in there would be Steven Ross. He's starting to get some reps at center, snapping with the quarterbacks now. I think he played a little bit of center in junior high, that type of stuff, so it's not completely foreign to him, but it certainly will be a learning process.

"We definitely would like to go into the fall with three or four centers identified out of this group," Nall adds. "And then, of course, you've got one coming in (signee Will Ward of Prattville), but we don't want to even consider Will for another year."

Steven Ross

Ross, who has added 20 pounds to his six-foot-five frame since last fall, is up to 272 pounds. If he doesn't play center, he will return to tackle in 2002, where he practiced last fall. "He will play weak tackle, also," Nall notes. "But right now, weight-wise, he's going to have a tough time. He can play center, but he needs another 20 pounds to be a true anchor at tackle.

"There are some questions at center," Nall adds. "The good thing is they are depth questions. It is not a ‘who is a center?' It is a ‘Who's going to be the center?' out of those centers. We have got potential. I'm excited about that position. That's where everything starts. If you don't have a good center, you've got problems."

Editor's Note: This is part seven of a series of previews on spring training 2002 for the Auburn Tigers. Coming next: offensive guards and tackles.

Spring Preview: Defensive Tackles

Spring Preview: Running Backs

Spring Preview: Linebackers

Spring Preview: Cornerbacks

Spring Preview: Tight Ends

Spring Training Changes Planned

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