Auburn, Ala.--Offensive line coach Hugh Nall was impressed enough with Jonathan Palmer’s first collegiate start that he says the junior guard is in the hunt for a full-time starting position on the Auburn offense.
Palmer filled in at right guard on Saturday for Tim Duckworth, who was slowed by an ankle injury and held out of Auburn’s 63-3 victory over Ball State.
Nall notes that a player doesn’t lose his starting spot if he has to miss a game for an injury, but says that Palmer has improved enough to merit serious consideration for first string status the rest of the season. The line coach says he will likely play both juniors and see which one does the best job and make him the regular starter.
Palmer won praise for his play in preseason this year.
Nall says he also likes what he saw from sophomore tackle King Dunlap in his first start as well as sophomore Leon Hart, who came off the bench and did a solid job at tackle. Nall is known for sticking with a starting five and rarely substituting, but he says that Dunlap and Hart will likely see prime-time action in the coming weeks as well as Palmer.
Palmer notes that is a definite change in philosophy for his position coach. “In the past he has kind of been more so just first string and that was it,” Palmer says. “If you were second string you may get in when you blow a team out. When he tells you that you are still in the hunt and puts you in early and everything that gives you hope to keep on playing hard and try to get a starting position.”
Both Nall and Palmer were pleased with how the redshirt junior performed on Saturday. “It was a lot of fun,” the 6-5, 320-pound Palmer says. “It felt so good being back out there. It has been so long since I started. It was four years ago, back in high school.”
At Cedar Grove High in Decatur, Ga., he and current Tiger teammate, All-SEC tackle Marcus McNeill, played side by side. McNeill has been a starter since his freshman season and says that he isn’t surprised that Palmer performed well on Saturday.
“He is an extraordinary athlete,” says McNeill, who adds, “I am blessed with the opportunities I got. He didn’t have the same opportunities I got, but at the same time he got an opportunity last weekend and he did a great job.
“Coach Nall would be the first to tell you that he is the most naturally talented offensive lineman we have,” McNeill says of Palmer. “With his body, his size and his great footwork he looks like an offensive lineman, plays like an offensive lineman and he has great athletic ability at the same time.”
Nall confirms what McNeill says and adds that lack of consistency has been the thing that has kept the redshirt junior out of the starting lineup. “Coach Nall’s main thing is for me to become more consistent so without a doubt if he puts me in I will get the job done on every snap,” says Palmer, who notes that Saturday’s performance helped his cause.
“I think I have really improved on my pass protection and my overall aggressiveness,” Palmer adds. “He can put me in the game and know that I will get the job done.”
Palmer is a versatile player. He can play all five offensive line positions for the Tigers and has played four of them in games. He has not been in a game at center, but says he would like to give that a try against strong competition to see how he can handle that assignment. He is the third stringer at that spot behind Joe Cope and Steven Ross.
With Ross out of action with a knee injury earlier this year, Palmer got work at center in spring drills and made progress.
Jonathan Palmer is shown at a practice in which he worked at center.
“At first I had my doubts about it (center), but after I started playing it for a week it really wasn’t that bad,” he says. “The main thing was getting the snaps. He tried me a year and a half ago and I was fumbling the snaps and I really didn’t like it. This spring he put me back there and I figured I might have a good chance to start at center and I took it more seriously. It really wasn’t that bad.”
Palmer says he believes he is more ready than ever to handle a starting assignment. “I am more mature. I grew up through this process. I kept examining myself to see what I was doing to find out why I wasn’t out there and I kept trying to improve every day.”
With eight regular season games to play, Palmer has plenty of opportunities to show he belongs in the starting lineup and has a chance to be there this week for Auburn’s homecoming game vs. Western Kentucky.