AU Spring Football Preview: Offensive Line

In the second of a series previewing spring football practice at Auburn the rebuilding offensive line is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Losing four senior starters off the offensive line from the 2006 season, the biggest question mark for the Auburn Tigers heading into spring practice is up front where Hugh Nall has a major rebuilding job to direct.

Although the group looks to be deep on talent, the Tigers are shallow in experience to build around with only King Dunlap back as a full-time starter. Auburn's offensive line coach says this spring training will be an interesting one to see which players step up now that it's their time to shine.

"It's going to be a big, big need," Nall says. "You've got a guard like Ben Grubbs that has been there for three years at one spot. That will be a big question. Tyronne Green is at that spot right now, but all of them will be evaluated day by day all the way across to even King Dunlap. He will be the only returning starter, but he will be evaluated day by day. I'm going to find the best five for next year.

"Losing (Tim) Duckworth is a big deal and also losing Joe Cope at center," Nall adds. "You are losing your middle three who have been together for a couple of seasons. That's the big question. Jonathan Palmer had moved out to tackle and did an okay job for us, but we've got to see better production across the board, especially from the right side. We were not happy with our right side."

Up the middle the Tigers have the potential to be in better shape this fall than in some recent past years with junior center Jason Bosley and senior Leon Hart both having starting experience at their positions. Nall says that Bosley's play last season when Cope was injured gives him comfort that the center position is in good hands.

"I thought Jason Bosley did a good job stepping in," Nall says. "He's still got a long way to go. We put him in some rough situations last year with Arkansas and Florida and playing against some folks like that. They were pretty good football teams. He got a good initiation and he's the heir apparent for that job even though Mike Berry will be his backup."

Jason Bosley was solid in his play last season for the Tigers.

Auburn's most heralded offensive line recruit since Willie Anderson, Hart has had the misfortune of being forced into action as the top backup his freshman season and stuck in that role for each of the last two years as well. Now with his name penciled in as the likely starter heading into the spring Hart and Greene will have to hold off a group of talented young players over the course of 15 spring practice days.

"Leon Hart, I'm going to play him at the right guard where Duckworth was," Nall says. "Nathan Farrow will be competing for that job along with Lee Isom at both guard positions, left and right. You can also throw Bart Eddins into the guard scenario. I expect to see competition at each and every position."

Leon Hart finally gets his shot at starting heading into the spring after three years as a backup.

The most intriguing competition in the spring could be at right tackle where talented but inconsistent junior Antwoin Daniels goes into the spring as the first stringer, but will have to hold off a challenge from the athletic Andrew McCain to keep his job. Nall says that both tackle spots should be fun to watch with some young players getting their shot to shine.

"At right tackle Antwoin Daniels will start out there with Andrew McCain behind him," Nall says. "There should be some good competition at that position. At left tackle you have Oscar Gonzalez backing up King. We have some good depth, but not a lot of experience.

"He's a 300-plus (pounds) guy now," Nall says of McCain. "He has really taken to being an offensive lineman. I think he has accepted that fact and the fact that he could have a future. He can be pretty good if he wants to be. It's up to him and how he handles it. I really believe he's one that could step in and see a lot of playing time this year if he continues to develop through the spring."

With plenty of bodies to choose from in the spring, Nall says that he likes the talent level at his disposal but knows a lack of starting experience will be tough to overcome this season. Because of that he says the ability of the line to come together in the spring will be a big key to their development heading into the 2007 season.

"Leon has started a couple of games for us and Antwoin has played in a good many games," Nall says. "Tyronne played in several games as well. They are not totally inexperienced, but as far as starts go I don't think we'll have but Bosley's two or three starts, Leon's two or three and then King started 13 games last year. That's just 17 starts out of five positions. We've got our work cut out for us. We'll just have to see how they respond.

"Hopefully, that will define itself," Nall says of the line gelling together. "If it's not working I'll make some adjustments and move some guys around. I would really like to get a starting group pretty quickly and get them as much work as I can."

Lee Tilley, who spent last fall as a redshirt on the scout team, is the other scholarship lineman. Nall will have five more signees to work with in August when members of a heralded signee class put the pads on for the first time.

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