This is Part IV of a week-long series predicting what changes are ahead for Auburn this spring.
AUBURN, Ala. -- When Auburn opens practice next week, there’s no doubt that the best position battle of the spring will be at left tackle. It’s one of the most important positions on the field, and depending on the winner, it could shake up the entire offensive line.
At this point, it’s too early to predict who’s going to win the job, but don’t be surprised if the staff waits until fall camp before naming a starter.
The good news for Auburn is that there are plenty of candidates. The bad news for the fans is that the coaches will likely explore all of those options and take their time in making a decision. There will obviously be a player who starts with the first-team offense in the spring game, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be the starter come August for the season opener.
Don’t forget that ESPN 300 offensive lineman Braden Smith, a highly regarded member of the Tigers’ 2014 recruiting class, isn’t even on campus yet. He enrolls this summer, and though it’s unlikely he’ll start at left tackle, he could still factor into the two-deep depth chart.
“He’s very athletic, one of the strongest guys in the entire country,” head coach Gus Malzahn said of Smith. “He’ll fit in very good for us, and I think he has the ability to help us early.”
For those doubting that Smith can earn a significant role in his first year, just look at what Avery Young did two years ago as a true freshman. He also arrived in the summer, and by the season opener, was Auburn’s starting right tackle. It didn’t last as a shoulder injury forced him to miss the majority of the season, but it shows that it’s possible.
Speaking of Young, many consider him to be the best offensive tackle on the roster. His injury opened the door for Patrick Miller in 2012, but when Miller missed three games last year due to off-field issues, it was Young who stepped in and took advantage of an opportunity. He started the team’s last eight games, and now he’ll almost certainly have a starting job.
The only question is will he stay at right tackle where he’s played his whole career at Auburn or will he move over and fill the void left by Greg Robinson at left tackle?
If Young stays put, that means the competition will ultimately come down to Miller, the team’s opening day starter at right tackle a year ago, or redshirt sophomore Shon Coleman, Robinson’s primary backup last year.
“I think Coach [J.B.] Grimes is going to open it up to those two guys,” Malzahn told reporters last month. “Robert Leff will get an opportunity, Avery Young ... 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.”
Either Malzahn is a master at not tipping his hand or he has no idea who his left tackle is going to be next season. That’s what spring is for, though. He doesn’t have to name a starter the first week. He doesn’t even have to name a starter by the last week -- not one that’s etched in stone, anyway. He just needs to find a starter by August 30 when Arkansas comes to town.
The only real prediction that can be made right now about Auburn’s left tackle competition is that it’s going to take time to find the right guy.