With no spring training to sort out who will be replacing the half dozen Auburn players selected in the 2020 National Football League Draft, figuring out who will be stepping into those positions will be a high priority whenever Coach Gus Malzahn’s team returns to practice.
When looking at the big picture for the Tigers, there is no higher priority than finding a pair of quality offensive tackles to move into starting roles.
If the offense is going to be more pass-oriented to take advantage of Bo Nix’s skills as a passer, which is something likely to happen, protecting the quarterback from the outside rush is a must if that plan is going to be successful.
The Tigers must replace Jack Driscoll, a multiyear starter at right tackle who was selected in the fourth round of the draft. Left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho Jr., also a multi-year starter, was drafted in the sixth round. Tega played in 49 Auburn games and started 32 times. Driscoll, a graduate transfer from UMass, played in 22 games over two seasons at Auburn and started 21 of those.
Also at the tackle position, the Tigers must replace the top backup, Bailey Sharp, who was a senior in 2019.
A pair of redshirt juniors are possibilities to move up to first string status. Brodarious Hamm, who is 6-5, 312 pounds, is in the mix along with Alex Jackson, a 6-5, 304-pounder. Neither player has started for the Tigers nor do they have a significant amount of game experience.
Hamm is a player his teammates have said is ready for an expanded role. Jackson showed signs of progress last year in his conversion from defense to offense.
A wildcard in the mix is 6-6, 310 junior Austin Troxell, who missed last season due to another knee problem. He has seen action in a dozen games for the Tigers and has the talent to play in the SEC, but his health has kept him from being a major factor since he arrived on campus.
Also a possibility among the returnees is 6-4, 280-pound Justin Osborne, a native of Texas, who redshirted last season as a freshman. He played at prep school IMG Academy in Florida.
Bolstering the depth on the offensive line was a focus for Auburn’s coaching staff in the 2020 class, with the Tigers signing six players for those spots.
At tackle, the Tigers brought in Killian Zierer from Germany, who played junior college football at College of the Canyons in California. The 6-7, 284-pound Zierer enrolled at Auburn in January, but Malzahn noted that it isn’t certain yet when he will be cleared to play because he is continuing rehab from a knee injury suffered last season.
Another signee out of the California junior college ranks, 6-6 1/2, 275-pound Brenden Coffey is a three-star prospect scheduled to arrive at Auburn this summer after finishing at Butte College.
Sometime this summer is also the expected arrival time for graduate transfer Brandon Council, a native of Matthews, North Carolina, who is making the move from Akron.
He is 6-5, 300 pounds and will be the most experienced player on the 2020 Auburn roster in the offensive tackle group as well as the entire offensive front.
Auburn’s new offensive line coach, Jack Bicknell Jr., has a major rebuilding project on his hands with four starters to replace. Figuring out who will be protecting Nix from the athletic outside pass rushers the Tigers will be facing in the SEC looks to be at the top of the coach’s priority list.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter