Returning starter Ben Nowland looks to be a fixture at center and his backup last year as a true freshman, Danny Lindsey, looks like he has locked up a starting spot at weakside guard. Beyond those two, the lineup is not exactly set in stone.
Mark Pera, who looked to be a fixture in the lineup at weak tackle, is on the sideline with a hip flexor injury suffered last week. Auburn coaches hope to have him back on the practice field in time to prepare for the Trojans, but that is not a given.
Junior Mark Pera (69) was playing very well at tackle prior to a hip injury.
What was shaping up as an interesting battle for the starting tight guard spot between junior Monreko Crittenden and senior walk-on Ryan Hockett, has been put on hold, at least temporarily. Crittenden has moved outside to tackle and is currently running as the No. 1 player on the tight end side ahead of sophomore Ryan Broome while Steve Ross, a redshirt freshman, is No. 1 on the weakside in Pera's absence.
Head coach Tommy Tuberville says he is still hopeful that redshirt freshman tackle Taylor Bourgeois can bounce back from a two-a-days shoulder injury and seriously compete for playing time at the tackle spots.
"We are getting better, we are just very inconsistent," Tuberville says. "We are just trying to find the right combinations." The move of Crittenden back outside to tackle, where he played last season, looks like it could stick with Hockett playing well at guard and the Tigers needing help at tight tackle with Broome looking for more consistency and Marcus McNeill, the true freshman, being moved inside to guard once he returns from a back problem.
Offensive line coach Hugh Nall says he believes that there has definitely been progress made in the trenches through two-a-days. "Well we have made some progress in some areas. Our run blocking has improved a little. Our pass protection is coming, but that is the hardest thing to a group of young."
Nall is working with a talented group of freshmen featuring Troy Reddick, McNeill, Jonathan Palmer and Will Ward. Nall says he is very excited about their potential. "I wish it was three years from now, but it's not, it's right now," the line coach says. "Three years from now these guys will be really good. This year is going to be a rough year with the inexperience that we have got."
Will Ward (63) of Prattville and Marcus McNeill (73) of Ellenwood, Ga., are shown at a preseason practice.
Reddick and McNeill have a chance at playing this fall at guard while Palmer, a guard, and center Ward are likely to be redshirted. "They are coming on and everyday you see improvement," Nall says of the freshmen. "They seem to be focused. There seems to be a want-to. I think there is a chance that some off them might have to contribute. You know, I hope they will be ready. It is not a very long time until game time, but there is a lot they have got to learn and get better at and fine-tune."
The booming sound of Nall's voice commenting on and correcting the technique and effort of whatever his offensive linemen are doing at that particular moment has become a staple of preseason practices. However, the veteran coach says that things are not as bad as they may sound at times.
"What I try to tell my players all the time, I want to coach them hard and we do demand perfection," Nall says. "I want perfection. If it is not perfect they are going to hear about it. It might have been a good job, but it wasn't good enough. We have got a lot of mistakes happening so some of the yelling is legitimate and some of it is that I want it perfect."
Nall says that there is a particular reason for his demand for perfection during practice. "I always tell them that I want practice to be a lot rougher than games are. And I think that is my job to keep pressure on them and to let them know that they are being watched every second and anything that is not right is going to be noticed and we will be trying to correct it."
Nall says there has been some reason to be encouraged, too, by what he has seen this preseason. "I think that the group of returning players has done a good job for us thus far. And, it is still a new system that they are learning and are doing a good job with."
Tiger Ticket Extra Although big Marcus McNeill has received more attention, another true freshman offensive lineman, Troy Reddick, is also having a good preseason. "Reddick's at weak guard and he is doing a good job there," Nall notes. "The main thing is to get these young guys to understand that we have got to think and execute when we are tired and continue to get the job done."