Coynis Miller

Aside from the competition for the starting quarterback job between Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix, one of the most anticipated position battles of fall camp will be for the large hole left at defensive tackle by the departure of Dontavius Russell. 

Heading into fall camp, which starts Friday, there is no clear-cut answer, although it seems likely that buck end Nick Coe, at 6-foot-5, 291 pounds, has enough size, versatility and explosiveness to slide inside and easily handle the job. Defensive end Marlon Davidson also has a versatile enough skillset to move inside to tackle. He's also transformed his body in the offseason by focusing on having a better diet, replacing 5 percent of his body fat with muscle. He said he hopes it translates into more explosiveness and the ability to finish plays in the backfield. In 2018, Davidson led the team, by far, in quarterback hurries with 11, but only finished with 3.5 sacks.

"I got to finish on the quarterback this year," said Davidson at SEC Media Days. "I can't miss them when they're in my arms."

Having a four-year starter in Davidson return, along with tackle Derrick Brown and Coe, should help ease whatever pains might come with replacing Russell. 

In addition to Coe and Davidson, line coach Rodney Garner could turn to a handful of talented, yet largely unproven players, including Tyrone Truesdell, Coynis Miller and Daquan Newkirk. 

All three saw action in reserve roles last season, but none finished with more than nine tackles. Truesdell and Miller also had a minimum impact in the A-Day game, finishing with a tackle apiece. Newkirk didn't participate during spring practice after suffering an injury to his Achilles tendon. Newkirk also missed spring camp in 2018 with an Achilles injury.

If Coe shifts inside, T.D. Moultry should see increased reps at buck end, which he played in a reserve role last season, registering 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks while appearing in 13 games. 

While the competition for the tackle position will likely be the most consequential on the defensive side of the ball, the attention will be squarely fixed, for both coaches and fans, on the battle between Gatewood and Nix to take over as the starting quarterback. 

Both are basically neck-and-neck heading into fall camp. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Gatewood took "the next step" in his development during spring practice. 

"You really saw a difference, a different person step up in the spring," he said. "He's a big guy. He can run. He's got a big arm. And I think he gives you a lot of versatility as a play caller."

Gatewood saw limited action in Auburn's bowl win over Purdue, but looked sharp in the A-Day game, completing 8 of 12 passes for 130 yards and two scores. He didn't get to showcase possibly his strongest asset — his ability to run — because the quarterbacks were not "live." 

Nix, who enrolled early, made a quick impression on coaches and teammates during spring practice. He has a strong, accurate arm and good enough mobility and speed to be effective running the football. He displayed some of that mobility during the A-Day game, when he carried it three times for 16 yards. He also connected on 11 of 17 passing for 155 yards, two TDs and one interception. 

"Bo is a great competitor," said Malzahn. "From day one when he stepped on campus, he had the mindset that he was going to be the starting quarterback, and I think that's rare.

"Him and Joey both have done a good job trying to win over their teammates, understanding that's a big factor. But Bo's a lot better athlete, I think, than most people give credit, and I said he's got a chance to really be special, as does Joey Gatewood."

The Tigers will hit the field Friday for the first practice of fall camp. Auburn opens its season on Aug. 31 in a neutral site game against Oregon in Arlington, Texas. 

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