Arguably the weakest position of the Auburn football team last year was the offensive line.
It was a unit returning only one player who had ever made a start before, and the lack of experience showed throughout the season. Now, it is the task of new offensive line coach Will Friend to whip the Tigers’ line back into shape and become a dominant force on the field.
To do so, the line needs to gel together, and there's no better time to work on becoming one unit than in the spring. They will get that chance starting on Monday when the Tigers kick off spring practice. In general, Auburn will practice Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays over the next month, with a week off after the expected first scrimmage on March 27. The A-Day game is set for April 17.
Every player on the offensive line had the option to return to play football this season, and just about all of the offensive linemen from 2020 have announced that they will return.
The one exception is Kamar Bell, a redshirt sophomore who announced that he would be entering the transfer portal. Bell only saw action as a backup last season against LSU. Fellow lineman Prince Micheal Sammons has not made it clear whether he will be leaving or staying with the Tigers in 2021. Sammons did not see action last season due to injury.
Aside from Bell and potentially Sammons, virtually every lineman will be returning for 2021.
Avery Jernigan, David Shannon and Kilian Zierer are all returning but none of the three have seen action in their careers with the Tigers. Zierer came to Auburn as the top-rated junior college prospect in the nation but was sidelined in 2020 due to injury. He registers a whopping 6-foot-7-in inches in height, and coaches fully expect him to contribute in 2021.
Tate Johnson, Kameron Stutts and Trent Kelley are all fellow linemen who have seen the field but have not had the opportunity to start for the Tigers.
Johnson and Stutts have both seen the field as offensive linemen while Kelley has seen more playing time but on special teams rather than on the line. In a position group that rotates heavily, these three have the experience to provide much needed depth.
Three offensive linemen have all had significant playing time but lack a large number of starts, including Jalil Irvin, Brenden Coffey, and Austin Troxell.
Irvin has seen action as both a guard and center and played in five games in 2020. Coffey, a transfer from Butte College, saw significant playing time last season and even started against Mississippi State after injuries caused the line to reshuffle.
Troxell has been with Auburn for years, and after various injuries along the offensive line he was able to start at left tackle against Alabama, Mississippi State and Northwestern to close the season. He'll battle for the starting job at left tackle this spring.
All three players have the potential to make a splash in the starting lineup as long as they continue to progress heading into 2021.
After having only one returning player with a start in 2020, Auburn now returns six offensive linemen who have seen significant playing time.
Keiondre Jones is a guard who had seven starts last season as he filled in for the injured Brandon Council. Outside of Jones, the Tigers also return Tashawn Manning at left guard, Alec Jackson at left tackle, Council at right guard, Brodarius Hamm at right tackle, and Nick Brahms at center. Brahms is the most-experienced returner with 21 career starts but all other linemen started every game last season, with the exception of Hamm and Council, who suffered injury.
Joining Auburn’s offensive line in 2021 are Garner Langlo and Colby Smith. Langlo was rated the No. 22 guard in the nation while Smith was rated one of the top 35 prospects in North Carolina.
With the number of players above them on the depth chart, they will need to work hard to crack the rotation in 2021. But both should still be able to gain valuable experience from the fall as they learn to adjust to the SEC pace of football.
While experience doesn’t translate into success, for offensive linemen it helps to have it arguably more than any other position.
An offensive line’s success is built off its ability to find the best five players and put them at the positions where they will be the best.
The process of fitting the best players to the best positions is usually time-consuming, and spring practice is a great time for the line to get used to working with one another and developing the communication skills to be successful in the fall.