Auburn, Ala.--Spring training is the time of the year that football coaches get a chance to experiment and unproven football players have an extended opportunity to show their coaches what they can do.
When Auburn takes the practice field on Tuesday to begin 15 days of spring football workouts, there won't be a shortage of candidates getting a look to replace the only graduating senior from the 2002 starting offensive line. Two-year starter Ben Nowland has gone and is trying to move on to the next level as a potential NFL player. There is no doubt that the All-SEC performer will be missed, but there is no reason to expect that the Tigers will be hurting at the key position.
Danny Lindsey is making the move to center from guard and the six-foot-two, 300-pound junior from Douglas, Ga., has the look of a future pro prospect himself. Lindsey is exceptionally quick at getting off the line of scrimmage to make a block on the snap of the football. Combine that with the fact that he is an honor student, a hard worker and one of the all-around strongest players on the team, instead of being a problem area center could be a strength in 2003.
If there is any concern is that the Tigers don't have a player behind Lindsey who is proven at the college level, but there are some interesting candidates for Hugh Nall to consider. However, it will be a major upset if anybody can get past Lindsey on the depth chart. The junior started 11 games at guard as a sophomore and two at center when Nowland was recovering from an injury. He also started the Vandy game at center as a true freshman after Nowland was injured at Syracuse. "There is no doubt that Danny can play the position," Nall says.
Lindsey is SEC battle-tested as both a center and guard.
There is some doubt about how ready Lindsey will be to play in the spring. After the bowl game he underwent surgery to repair an injured foot and at the most Lindsey is expected to see only limited action in spring drills, but he should be ready to be a key player for the Tigers on opening day vs. Southern Cal. The big question at center is who will be the No. 2 guy. "The backup center position is a concern of mine," says Nall.
At the start of spring practice, walk-on junior Jeremy Ingle will be the top backup and should get a long look at the position. "Jeremy Ingle really came on during the year, I thought," Nall says. "He is a kid that gives you everything he has got. His size is a factor. He has to make sure technique-wise he is on track to give himself a chance to be productive. He showed as the year went on that he could play pretty good when he was in there. In practice I was excited about the progress he made so he will go into spring as the starting guy unless Danny is ready. He is probably six-foot-one-and-half to six-foot-two and weighs around 275. Jeremy is a good good football player. He's a smart kid and he plays hard. As long as he plays smart and plays hard, he has got a chance to be a good one for us."
Auburn signed Will Ward from Prattville High in February of 2002. He is expected to check in at 6-2, 270 pounds for the start of spring drills. "Will Ward is a kid that I think has a lot of potential," Nall says. "This will be his first chance to really start stepping up and show what he has got so it will be a big spring for him."
In addition to Ingle, who was formerly a defensive lineman, there is another walk-on who caught the coach's eye. "Joe Cope is a kid who has walked on and he is a good football player," Nall says. "He will be the third team center this spring when Danny is not out there. We are looking for him to step up and give us some depth and compete for that number two spot or the number three spot assuming Danny comes back in the spring. Joe is probably in the 260s at six-foot-one to six-foot-two. He is a hard-nosed, tough kid that will give you everything he's got. He is from down in Andalusia."
A wild card possibility at center is redshirt sophomore Steven Ross. "I've told him he has got to know tight end, weak tackle and center this spring," Nall says. "He has played a little center and shown he has some quickness there and some smarts. He can play that position. Steven will also give us a chance to have another blocker at tight end that has some size. He is a (6-6, 282 pounds) kid who is a good athlete.
"He can run and should be an effective receiver, especially with the play-action stuff and shallow drags and that type of stuff. He will be able to do that. I don't think we will be sending him vertical too much to try to stretch the coverage, but he can certainly make some things happen for us in the short passing game, the option routes and the drag routes and give us some size at the tight end position. Going into it at this point, I feel a lot better at the tight end position than I did a few months ago."
If the other centers step and perform well this spring, Nall will be feeling a lot better about that position, too. Having a talented center, experienced center with some quality backups would definitely be a major plus for a team that has intentions on challenging for the 2003 SEC title.