With most eyes fixed on the quarterback battle between Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix, a lot of attention should also be given to the group tasked to protect them.
The Auburn offensive line had its ups and downs last year, but expectations are high heading into 2019 as all five starters return for their redshirt senior seasons.
With five returning starters led by 6-foot-7, 305-pound offensive tackle and preseason All-SEC first team selection Prince Tega Wanogho, the line is working to become one of the best units in the country.
With as much attention the defensive line gets, the O-line is working just as hard in an attempt to be just as highly regarded — what offensive line coach Jeff Grimes calls being “Alpha Dogs.”
“They challenge us. I feel like me, Derrick (Brown), Nick (Coe) and my group is just the best. That’s how I feel. That’s how we approach every day, that we’re the best because if you talk like that that you’re going to be that eventually,” said Davidson. “But going against those guys and them showing improvement every day — because we had the growing pains last year of course. But I mean, the guys now, they’re turning it on; they’re being men. You can see the group getting together and just forming to be something special.”
Another leader on the offensive line is center Kaleb Kim, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound redshirt senior who has struggled with injuries during his time on The Plains. Kim missed five games last season due to injury but is now fully healthy and ready to become an integral part of the Auburn offense.
“Right now, I’m feeling as good as I’ve felt in a really long time. I think the first day in pads it will really show on film that I was really able to get after it on a healthy knee,” he said.
Kim took over the starting role at center last season, and with another year of experience, Kim’s confidence is at an all-time high.
“I’m definitely a lot more confident. Just having a year under my belt playing next to Mike (Horton) and Marquel (Harrell) makes a huge difference, and obviously playing next to those guys makes my job a lot easier because they’re both super-talented guys. And I’m excited to keep playing with them,” Kim said.
Not only is Kim confident in his ability, head coach Gus Malzahn knows just how important the redshirt senior can be.
“Healthy is probably the biggest thing because I don’t know how many times he was truly 100 percent healthy last year. He’s really stepped up his leadership and is taking charge of the offensive line. That’s been real encouraging,” Malzahn said.
The rest of the offense is also preparing hard for the upcoming season and building off improvements from the spring.
With the departure of key wideouts in Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton, the wide receiver unit certainly has some shoes to fill.
After sitting out last season due to a torn ACL, receiver Will Hastings will be an important piece to the Tigers' offensive puzzle.
Even with the recent hand injury to sophomore WR Anthony Schwartz, Hastings is confident in the unit’s ability and depth.
“Coach (Kodi) Burns mentioned that we are probably the deepest wide receiver group in the country right now, and I really believe that,” Hastings said.
Among those who have a chance to step up is Youngstown State grad transfer wide receiver Zach Farrar.
Farrar, a big-bodied 6-foot-4, 210-pound wideout who recently arrived on The Plains, is already showing glimpses of being an impact wideout just a few days into fall camp.
“He’s still kind of learning, but you can tell he’s got a good skill set, now. He’s still coming along,” Malzahn said. “Like I said, probably for him, it’s not the best (thing) that we’ve been putting our installs in a little bit quicker. You can tell he’s got some natural ability.
Farrar is the second biggest receiver on Auburn’s roster behind converted tight end Sal Cannella, so with his frame Farrar has a chance to replace Slayton as a lengthy receiver who can stretch the defense from the outside.
“I think he’s a good receiver, I think he’s a good kid. He knows how to run routes. We obviously didn’t block, but he’s a big guy and it looks like he can do a lot of different things for us,” Hastings said. “I’m ready to see him out the pads on and see what he’s got.”
Expectations for the Auburn offense as a whole in 2019 are high. With Malzahn promising to return to a faster, no-huddle offense, fans are expecting to see a Tiger offense like they have become accustomed to in previous years.