Auburn released its team depth chart ahead of the season-opener against Akron on Saturday, with some surprises at certain positions.
First off, the offensive line is different. Compared to last year's starters at the beginning of the season, only Nick Brahms at center and Brodarious Hamm at right tackle have kept the same position.
Last year’s opening day right guard, Brandon Council has moved to left guard, and is listed with Alec Jackson atop on the depth chart at that position.
Jackson was the starting left tackle last year, but Austin Troxell will now protect Bo Nix’s blindside from left tackle. Rounding out the offensive line at right guard will be either Keiondre Jones and Tashawn Manning. Manning started at right guard last year for the Tigers.
“The best test for our offensive line is going to be game day,” head coach Bryan Harsin said, “and get the chance to see those guys get out there, new front, different players that they hadn't gone against.”
Offensive line was an issue last season for the Tigers, who only put up 1,788 total rushing yards in 11 games, the fewest yards per game an Auburn team has had since 2012. The 2020 offensive line was changed seemingly by the week, so if Harsin and the Tigers hope to improve on running the ball then the offensive line will need to stay healthy and play as a unit.
“I think we've done some good things (on the offensive line),” Harsin said. “We're certainly better than what we were at the beginning of camp. We are more consistent. I think getting a few guys back into the rotation on the offensive line has helped us.”
Wide receiver Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. was the only true freshman to make it on to Auburn’s official depth chart, placing behind Ja’Varrius Johnson at the slot receiver position. The former four-star recruit brings impressive speed to the lineup, which helped in separating him from the other receivers.
Harsin noted that there could be roles for other true freshmen in the future, including on special teams.
“Dawson has put himself in that position,” Harsin said, “I think he's been pretty consistent out of practice as far as his effort and then understanding what he needs to do.”
The Tigers dipped heavily into the transfer portal, with Harsin recruiting 10 transfers in the offseason and seven of them earning spots on the two-deep.
On offense, wide receiver Demetris Robertson, a grad transfer from Georgia, solidified himself as the starting Z-receiver.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kansas transfer Tony Fair and UAB grad transfer Marcus Harris have earned starting roles on the defensive line, with Southeast Missouri State transfer Bydarrius Knighten starting at strong safety. Vanderbilt transfer Donovan Kaufman is a reserve for safety Smoke Monday, and the team’s starting kick returner.
Rounding out the transfers on the two-deep are LSU transfer quarterback T.J. Finley, who will back-up Nix, and the 2020 junior college defensive player of the year Ro Torrence at corner behind Roger McCreary.
“I think one difference (with transfers) is they have been through fall camp,” Harsin said, “They have been through the learning curve. I think there's a better understanding of what to expect.”
With the Tigers’ first two games coming against Akron and Alabama State, Harsin and company will have enough time to nail down their starting lineup before the first true test of the season, a matchup with Penn State in Happy Valley.
Until then, Harsin will keep preparing for Akron. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. with the game being streamed on ESPN+.