The Auburn Tigers will enter the 2018 season with the fan base split between those taking an optimistic view and those concerned about what the future holds.
What both sides can agree on is where the team will be strong and where important questions remain. The defensive line returns depth and talent and should be nationally elite again. The offensive front? Who knows?
Outside of Clemson, Auburn may have the best defensive line in the country. Experienced playmakers like Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown should hear their names called early in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Dontavius Russell surprised many by returning for a final year on the Plains.
Nick Coe comes back as one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the SEC and is expected to have a breakout season. T.D. Moultry is expected to replace Jeff Holland, who was picked up as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Denver Broncos this past weekend.
The depth up front will allow Auburn to rush the passer with fresh bodies on key downs for four quarters in the fall. The pass rush and penetration created by Auburn’s front will help the younger defensive backs in coverage as well as free up Auburn’s linebackers to make plays.
The Tigers entered last season with a group of offensive linemen who could have been the best offensive front Auburn has seen in years. They vastly underachieved.
With Braden Smith being a second-round selection by the Indianapolis Colts and Austin Golson and Darius James signing as UDFA with the New York Jets, Auburn had plenty of talent up front in 2017, but the unit left a lot to be desired when it came down to production on the field.
With signs pointing to Auburn passing much more in 2018, protecting quarterback Jarrett Stidham will more important than ever. On top of protecting the passer, Auburn is facing some questions at running back. The offensive line will need to step up to help open running lanes for whoever wins the starting job.
Who will man the line to start 2018?
Figure on junior Prince Tega Wanogho locking down the left tackle position. It would be a major surprise, and disappointment, if he doesn’t. Two redshirt freshmen, Calvin Ashley and Austin Troxell, are expected to fight it out at right tackle.
Mike Horton and Marquel Harrell both have starting experience at guard. They should be solid, if not spectacular.
Kaleb Kim should be the front man for the center position.
Add in graduate transfer Jack Driscoll from UMass, promising youngster Prince Sammons, and members of the 2018 recruiting class, and the offensive front could perform better this season despite lower expectations.
(You can follow Zac Blackerby on Twitter @ZBlackerby)
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