News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Depth on AU
line in question

Some experienced blockers
in new spots

By Bradley Handwerger
DAILY Sports Writer 340-2462

AUBURN — The biggest question for Auburn might not be who replaces offensive tackles Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick.

King Dunlap and Jonathan Palmer will fill those spots fine.

The Mount Everest of questions, rather, is who the heck replaces the five starting offensive linemen should any of them find themselves injured?

Senior center Joe Cope, however, doesn't think that's such a big uncertainty.

"We're reloading," Cope said. "They've been teaching these guys that were under them."

Offensive line coach Hugh Nall isn't showing the same sort of enthusiasm. In fact, he's still worried about the starters.

"I'm concerned about the first group," Nall said. "They've got experience, but they don't have experience together. I keep saying that, but that's the truth."

The starting five — Dunlap at left tackle, Ben Grubbs (left guard), Cope, Tim Duckworth (right guard) and Palmer (right tackle) — haven't played together in their respective positions.

The other concern, and possibly the main worry, has to do with the backups, however. The few candidates for playing time haven't been in practice to work their way into playing time.

"We certainly have got some questions still with Leon (Hart) missing so much, and Antoine (Daniels) has been out, and now Tyrone (Green) is out," Nall said. "Those guys have got to figure in, and I don't know yet. This really hurts them with playing time, where they are going to be playing and where they're competing for."

Hart been hampered by an ankle injury this preseason and his status is unknown for the Sept. 2 Washington State game. Green spent Tuesday in the hospital for observation after succumbing to a heat-related illness Monday. Daniels has been out with a bruised knee, but he returned Tuesday.

Nall isn't sure when Hart or Daniels will return, but he expects Green back today.

Hart has struggled at tackle, but has shown promise at guard. He's not nimble enough to move outside the box per the requirements of a tackle. However, as a guard, he's proven that he can hold his ground and make the necessary movement.

Green has impressed coaches this preseason. He redshirted in 2004, and then moved to the offensive side of the ball from defensive tackle. He pulled scrap time against Ball State, Western Kentucky, South Carolina and Ole Miss a season ago and is considered a solid backup this year.

"He's definitely got great feet and a great punch," Palmer said. "It seems like it's kind of natural to him to pass block. He has a chance to be a great offensive lineman."

While their coach is worried about the lack of depth, the players are showing a different mood.

Palmer, for one, thinks no matter who is the No. 2 at any of the line positions, they'll be ready come game time.

"Coach Nall does a good job of preparing you for the games where the games aren't as hard as practice," Palmer said. "They might have a little anxiety come game time, but I think once they actually get in the game, it'll come second nature to them. It's a little concern, but not that much."

As for McNeill's and Reddick's replacements, Grubbs isn't worried one bit that there will be a drop-off.

"We have all the confidence in guys like King," Grubbs

"JP has been waiting his turn since I got here. He's played every position on the line and he has the time in to be a leader. I'm looking up to him this season."

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