Auburn ended the 2017 season with two experienced seniors bookending the offensive line in front of quarterback Jarrett Stidham. It will open the 2018 season with a mix of two players who have decidedly less experience.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. The Tigers’ expected starter at left tackle has the tools to become an NFL-caliber prospect. The three players vying to start at right tackle are all talented enough that competition appears to be a complete toss-up less than a month before the start of fall camp.
There might be a shortage of experience relative to last season, but there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of potential.
Here’s a closer look at what we know and don’t know about Auburn’s offensive tackles:
Prince Tega Wanogho (Jr.), Jack Driscoll (Jr.), Bailey Sharp (Jr.), Prince Micheal Sammons (So.), Calvin Ashley (R-Fr.), Austin Troxell (R-Fr.).
WHAT WE KNOW
What we know is that Wanogho is set to reclaim his role as Auburn’s starting left tackle. He held it for the first four games of last season, but then just three of the final 10 after going to the bench in favor of senior Austin Golson, who moved over from center and was replaced there by senior Casey Dunn.
There is no such move for the Tigers to make this year, though. Wanogho has started more games at Auburn than the rest of the team’s tackles combined, and with no seniors at the position, he’s one of the elder statesmen on the offensive line along with starting guards Marquel Harrell and Mike Horton.
The 6-foot-7, 307-pound Nigeria native has also made strides to ensure that Auburn would have no reason to remove him from his starting spot even if there was a ready-made replacement on the roster. Head coach Gus Malzahn said during the spring that the junior had taken the “next step” toward becoming a leader on the offensive line. Position coach J.B. Grimes said the technical improvements Wanogho made this spring have him “ascending” toward an all-conference level.
“I feel like now is the right time to take the next step and be a leader for the younger guys coming up,” Wanogho said this spring. “I played last year so I feel like they look up to me, and I try to take that step to lead them.”
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
What we don’t know yet is who will start opposite Wanogho at right tackle. That might be the most hotly contested position battle at Auburn this fall. Grimes said it was still a dead heat at the end of the spring, and that was when it was just between redshirt freshmen Ashley and Troxell. The summer addition of Driscoll, a graduate transfer from UMass with two seasons of eligibility remaining, added a whole new wrinkle.
It looked at the start of spring like it would be Ashley’s job to lose. The former five-star recruit was the jewel of Auburn’s 2017 recruiting class. But four-star Madison Academy product Troxell, another member of that same class, began pushing him as soon as practices got underway.
“For a while there, Trox outperformed Calvin. And then Calvin came on. At the A-Day Game, I really thought Calvin had a heck of a day. He looked like what I had envisioned him being,” Grimes said. “They're both talented guys. They're both SEC-caliber players. And I think both of them will develop into really good football players.”
Driscoll, though, has more experience than both. He started eight games for UMass at left guard and left tackle in 2016, then all 12 games at right tackle last season on his way to earning a spot on the Phil Steele All-Independent First Team and All-ECAC Second Team. The Minutemen don’t play at the SEC level, obviously, but they did play games against Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi State (twice) over the past two seasons.
“You could tell he had a skill set that could definitely play in this league,” Malzahn said. “When we got around him and the type of person he is and the family he has, it was a really good fit for Auburn. We think he’s got a chance to be a very good player.”
THEY SAID IT
“I think by the time we get this group and polish them up and everything, I think this can be a very competitive (group). I’m cautiously optimistic that this group can be a good SEC offensive line. I really feel that way, guys. I’m telling you, we’ll be OK. We got to get better to get that way, but we’ll be all right. These are SEC players, OK? We got some work to do, a lot of work to do but we’ll get there.” — J.B. Grimes
After spending seven days looking at Chip Lindsey’s offense, we turn our attention to Kevin Steele’s defense. Up first: Auburn’s vaunted defensive line.