Zakoby McClain

Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin is not the only one having to get used to a lot of new things in his first season on The Plains. 

In fact, Harsin is bringing a lot of newness with him. He has spent most of the spring and summer implementing new offensive and defensive styles, a massive overhaul of the coaching staff, as well as churning the roster with a host of additions from the transfer portal who have a chance to earn early playing time for the Tigers. 

Harsin has been an advocate for not allowing any player to earn a starting spot just because they have had one in the past. Each and every player is expected to prove to the new coaching staff that they deserve to play. 

“There's nothing more frustrating in my opinion to know that you have no shot coming into fall to go compete … so they're going to get their opportunities to do what they got to make it count,” he said.

While this new philosophy plays out really well for new and younger players on the Auburn roster, there are older players such as Brandon Council, who will need to fight to earn a spot back. Council was a staple on the offensive line for Auburn last season until he suffered an ACL injury that forced him to miss games in 2020 and spring practice. Harsin has reiterated that despite being the crux of the Auburn offensive line, Council will still need to catch back up to start again this season. Fellow offensive lineman Nick Brahms spoke positively about the recovery of Council saying, “I don't think he’s lost a step.”

The offensive line was under fire last season for not giving quarterback Bo Nix much time to throw and not being forceful enough to generate a solid run game against equally talented defensive fronts. Despite the criticism, Brahms remains confident that the unit will get the job done this season. 

“We try to block out the noise,” said Brahms. “You know, we don't really listen to people because at the end of the day, we're the ones on the field, we're the ones making plays, you know, blocking people, and so, we're just gonna do that to the best of our ability.”

Harsin acknowledged that injuries along the offensive line in 2020 created some turmoil as they were unable to gel due to constant rotation. To alleviate that issue this season, Harsin has implemented a culture of change along the line, meaning that the offensive linemen are being asked to be familiar with several positions. 

“We're gonna have a lot of guys on the O-line crossbreeding, let me just say that," said Harsin. "Playing some guard, playing some tackle and letting those guys all compete.” 

"If an injury pops, oh, we want to get the best five on the field,” added Brahms. “And so that means moving from guard to tackle. You know, that's what we're gonna have to do.”

The offense isn’t the only unit experiencing change. The defense has a new defensive coordinator in Derek Mason after Harsin opted to not retain Kevin Steele. Mason has brought in an atmosphere that several older players seem to be attracted to and his defense has been easy to transition to.

“Mason's just bringing a whole new energy,” said defensive end Colby Wooden. “You know, getting us to fly around to the ball is just, it's just fun.”

“It's really simple,” added linebacker Zakoby McClain. “There’s a lot of communication because they're very strict on discipline, and they want you to do everything right.”

Auburn fans will be able to see how well coaches have implemented their new mentality in just over three weeks, when Auburn takes on Akron at home in Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 4.

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