Center Of More Attention For Football Tigers

An update is featured on the center situation with comments from Auburn line coach Hugh Nall.

Auburn, Ala.--Jonathan Palmer's ability to play the center position may get the junior offensive guard on the field earlier and more often this season.

Offensive line coach Hugh Nall says that Palmer is stepping up his performance level at center, a very timely development with preseason projected starter Steven Ross sidelined with a hip flexor injury after missing all of the spring recovering from knee surgery.

Palmer is running second team at the position behind junior Joe Cope, who Nall says is the likely starter for opening night a week from Saturday when Georgia Tech visits Jordan-Hare Stadium. However, the veteran line coach says that isn't set in stone.

Palmer was a high school teammate of Auburn starting left tackle Marcus McNeill.

Nall says if Palmer keeps making progress and playing like he did in AU's previous practice, he could be challenging for the starting spot. Nall also says not to count out Ross from the No. 1 spot just yet. He started at center last year when Jeremy Ingle was out with an injury.

"He (Palmer) has really done some good things," says Nall, who is considering splitting the first team reps with Cope and Palmer at Tuesday's practice. "He is very, very talented. Whenever ‘JP' makes his mind up to take it, he has probably got the most talent and natural ability up there. He has just got to take it all of them time and play with aggressiveness."

Nall also has been pleased with the progress that Palmer has made at reading defensive fronts and making line blocking calls. That is a major strength for Cope, a walk-on, who is a bit undersized at 277 pounds. However, Cope has won praise from Nall for his quickness, tenacity, toughness and ability to quickly read defensive fronts.

Ross weighs just over 290 pounds and Palmer is significantly bigger than the others at 6-5, 319 pounds. If Palmer breaks into the starting lineup, all five Auburn starters would weigh more than 300 pounds apiece.

Last year's starter at center, Jeremy Ingle, enjoys the victory at Alabama in 2004 as the Tigers improved their record to 11-0.

Nall notes he plans to let the competition for number one continue this week. "It is still open and Steven, you know, can't stay healthy," Nall says. "Two or three days ago, he had a really good practice. I thought he was fixing to make a move and then he gets hurt again. He is not in the equation now until he gets back on the practice field.

"It (hip flexor) is something that should be better soon so we have got this week and by late week it should be pretty much set," Nall adds. "I will make my decision and go with it, but there is still some competition there."

Based on what he is seeing from Palmer, Nall says it makes sense to give the big junior some work with starting quarterback Brandon Cox and the first team line "so it is not a strange voice and a strange communication if he does get into the game or if he starts in a game."

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