Editor’s note: This is part two in a week-long series looking at five position battles to watch when Auburn opens spring practice in two weeks.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson has gone from relative unknown to potential top-five draft pick in a little over four months. He wowed at the NFL combine last month by running a 4.92 40-yard dash, second among offensive linemen, and bench pressing 225 pounds an impressive 32 times.
Robinson’s colossal ascent came as a surprise to everybody except for his coach, Gus Malzahn.
— Coach Gus Malzahn (@CoachGusMalzahn) February 22, 2014
There’s now talk that Robinson could go No. 1 overall in May’s NFL draft. It would be a huge accomplishment for the Auburn program, but regardless of where he goes, the Tigers still have to replace him in 2014. And while there are no early favorites to take over at left tackle, there are plenty of options.
“I think Coach [J.B.] Grimes is going to open it up,” Malzahn said last month. “Spring is a great time for coaches to kind of mix and match, put people in different positions. The good thing is we have some depth up front going into this year.”
Shon Coleman (Sophomore): No Tiger has a better story than Coleman. The former three-star offensive tackle had high hopes when he signed with the Tigers in February 2010, but his path took a detour when he was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after he signed. He overcame the illness and returned to the field last fall where he served as the primary backup at left tackle. Now he’s next in line to take over and could be the favorite to win the job heading into spring.
Patrick Miller (Junior): Miller started nine games as a freshman at right tackle. He opened this past season as the starter, but when he was suspended for three games in the middle of the year, he lost his job to redshirt freshman Avery Young. Now he’s in the mix at left tackle where he’s hoping to learn from his mistakes and earn back a starting role.
Robert Leff (Sophomore): He has the least experience of the group, but Malzahn consistently brings up Leff’s name when asked about the left tackle position, meaning he’ll get his shot this spring just like everybody else. Even if he doesn’t win the job, he should see his name on the two-deep depth chart with a good spring.
Avery Young (Sophomore): If Coleman struggles this spring, don’t be surprised if Young gets a look over at left tackle. He took over at right tackle this past season, as mentioned above, and he’s the projected starter there heading into spring, but if he’s the team’s best offensive tackle, he might be better utilized on the left side.
Note: ESPN 300 offensive lineman Braden Smith will arrive this summer.
The real battle this spring is between Coleman and Miller. Is Coleman up to the task? How will Miller fare on the left side? Those are the questions that need to be answered. The intrigue will come if neither player emerges and the coaches are forced to move Young to left tackle. As Malzahn said, spring is a time to mix and match, and there will be plenty of that going on at the two offensive tackle spots.