Derrick Brown has looked up at times this spring, across the line of scrimmage during the heat of drills all through Auburn’s spring camp, and has often seen a different kind of monster snarling back.
Auburn’s offensive line is a new beast, Brown says.
He’s excited to see it.
Now his defensive line and that offensive line have the chance to serve as anchors for Auburn coming off Saturday’s A-Day and going into the summer and the fall.
“It was completely unbelievable,” said Brown, Auburn’s star defensive tackle, on the growth of that offensive line across the way from him and his position group.
“We have been working on each other all spring and they give us confidence,” he said, saying the O-line has improved from the fall to this spring. “They are a tight-knit group in the first place and they have come a long way.
“Just being here a long time and seeing how it used to be, and last year, and seeing some of those guys come back again and be able to be dominant — now I love watching them,” he said.
If anyone knows how far those offensive linemen have come, it’s Brown and those D-linemen — working opposite the Tigers’ front often in practice and in scrimmages.
Auburn capped its four-week spring camp with A-Day last Saturday, and is turning the page to its summer routine before fall camp opens in August.
Then, the Tigers are confident they’ll be able to lean on their experienced defensive line — which has Brown back, who considered a jump to the NFL and was projected in mock drafts to be a first-round pick before he decided to stay and earn his degree on the Plains, plus standouts like Marlon Davidson, Nick Coe and more.
In addition, though, Auburn players and coaches alike see strength in not only that fearsome defensive front, but along the offensive line, which toiled in inexperience last season but has found its footing this spring, the Tigers say.
Before A-Day, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn called the offensive line the team’s most improved position group this spring.
The Tigers return starters from all five positions along the offensive line — a year removed from a scramble to piece together that new-look like last offseason.
“We’re in a completely different spot than we were this time last year,” Malzahn said last Wednesday.
“We had some growing pains — I think everybody knows that,” he said. “But they started playing very solid football toward the end of the season. It’s really carried over. They communicated very well up front. You’re able to do a lot of different things with them.”
At A-Day, Auburn’s first-team offense line didn’t allow a sack, and gave up just one tackle for loss in the first half — before giving way to substitutions and a running clock in the scrimmage’s second half.
Auburn started Prince Tega Wanogho at left tackle, Marquel Harrell at left guard, Kaleb Kim at center, Mike Horton at right guard and Jack Driscoll at right tackle — the same starting five that closed last season for Auburn. Each of them started every game last fall except for Driscoll, who missed one game due to injury, and Kim, who gave way to Nick Brahms for five games in the middle of the season before taking back the starting role.
Auburn’s defensive line hardly needs an introduction. Brown was named a second-team All-SEC standout by the AP and the league’s coaches last season. Auburn’s only departing starter from its front four is the graduating Dontavius Russell, with Brown, Davidson and Coe all back, with regular rotation pieces Big Kat Bryant, T.D. Moultry, Tyrone Truesdell and others.
“We’re in a good spot up front on both sides of the football,” Malzahn put it simply last week.
Saturday it was easy to see: Brown was voted the A-Day game’s defensive MVP after being credited for four tackles and two sacks in the first half.
This fall, the Tigers are hoping that strength on both lines makes its way out onto the playing field.
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