Replacing the departed Andrew McCain, Auburn signed junior college linemen Roszell Gayden and Brandon Mosley and both came in with the idea of winning the starting spot opposite Lee Ziemba. Now just a few practices from the opener, both are trying to work into the starting role but may have some catching up to do.
That's because two players who were around last season are making a strong push to be the starter for coach Jeff Grimes. Junior A.J. Greene has had a big preseason camp to move into the mix as has sophomore John Sullen. Down almost 50 pounds, Sullen said just having the chance to win the right tackle position makes it an exciting time.
"It's very exciting just to have a chance to be able to start in the SEC," Sullen says. "It would be a great feeling. Last year against Ball State it was pretty nerve-wracking really. I was a true freshman going into the first game. It was still a great feeling, but knowing I would have my own spot would just be amazing to me."
After playing guard last season and throughout the spring, Sullen went to work on getting in better shape for his sophomore year. That improved stamina on the field has allowed him to make a serious push for the starting job even though he admits it has been far from easy.
"It has been fun but at the same time it has been a lot of hard work," Sullen says. "It's just a process I have been going through to try and get better and better."
Helping Sullen, Greene and the rest of the challengers has been a large group of veteran offensive linemen. Seniors Lee Ziemba, Ryan Pugh, Mike Berry and Byron Isom have all played a ton of games for the Tigers and Sullen said having that knowledge available to answer questions has been huge for him.
"It's great because you don't have to go straight to Ziemba," Sullen says. "Instead of saying, ‘Z how do I do this?' I can go straight to Ice and ask him or Pugh or Mike. It's great to have all four of those guys."
Whether or not he wins the starting job this seaspm Sullen says the competition has been a fun experience. While he's made a strong push, he points out for him it has been about more than just the right tackle position. He says it has also been a chance to learn more but himself and what it takes to be successful at Auburn and in the SEC.
"I have just been working on some little things here and there," Sullen says. "There are certain techniques in the passing game that I can work on and certain things in the running game. Every day after practice I try to stay and work on one thing that I've isolated that day."