Orlando, Fla.--Bowl practices for the Auburn Tigers have been important in recent seasons as players such as Kenny Irons and Brandon Cox have made strides heading into spring practice that jump-started them to big seasons.
This time around most of the backfield is set heading into next year, but on the offensive line there will be two big holes to fill when Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick play their last game against Wisconsin on Monday. That means the work for coach Hugh Nall has already started with several players getting a long look this week as the Tigers prepare for the Wisconsin Badgers.
“It has gone well,” Nall says of the practices. “I keep working J.P. (Jonathan Palmer) at center some and at guard. I think he’s got a chance to be good at either one of those. He’ll be competing for that starting job at both of those spots come spring practice.
”Leon (Leon Hart) and King (King Dunlap) worked in a little bit more with the first team,” he adds. “We got six reps and I’ll try to give the other two guys (McNeill and Reddick) four and them two. That’s been good getting them some reps in there by Duck (Timmy Duckworth) and by Grubbs (Ben Grubbs) because those are the guys that should be the starters come spring practice.”
Hart will likely play the right tackle position next season to protect the blind side of quarterback Brandon Cox.
One of the top high school offensive linemen in the country two years ago out of South Carolina, Hart has been a solid backup for the Tigers at both guard and tackle in his two seasons on the Plains. He has also seen time at center as well as Nall has looked for ways to get the athletic big man on the field. Hart says that in the end playing all over the field has helped him grow as an offensive lineman as has his experience this season on the field.
“I believe it has helped me become a better lineman,” Hart says. “Hopefully, if I get a chance to go to the NFL it will look good on my resume` that I got a chance to play all of those positions.
“It has helped my confidence a lot getting a lot of reps this year,” Hart adds. “I got some playing time my freshman year, but it really surprised me the number of reps I got this year. I believe it helped me and is going to prepare me for next year.”
Hart and Dunlap both played well in reserve action this season.
Nall isn’t the only coach on the offense watching the offensive line intently. Looking for two players to protect Cox next season, offensive coordinator Al Borges has been watching the front five closely in bowl practices to get an idea of what the offense has in store for next season. So far he says he’s been happy with what he’s seen out of Nall’s young players.
“I think some of our offensive linemen, Antwoin Daniels I think is going to be a good player,” Borges says. “Tyronne Green, a great move moving him to offense. He’s got a chance. Jonathan Palmer is not a young guy. He’s been with us, but he’s really starting to come on now. I think he’s really going to help us. Oscar (Oscar Gonzalez) has a lot of talent. We just have to teach him the offense. I like him. The linemen, I have probably taken the closest look at because those are the guys you have to watch the best to get an idea because receivers and backs kind of jump out at you.”
A competitor who enjoys being put in the spotlight, Hart says that getting a chance to shine in practice as well as enjoy the city of Orlando has been very enjoyable for him as the Tigers get closer to the Capital One Bowl game against Wisconsin.
“It’s a fun experience in Orlando,” Hart says. “I’m having a good time. I think it’s a little bit better than New Orleans because it’s a place where everybody can go. To me New Orleans seemed like sort of an older crowd kind of place. So far I’m enjoying it.
“I’m enjoying getting the chance to work and get extra reps,” Hart adds. “Right now me and King are working real hard because we’re going to have to be the ones to step in next year. I’m glad that coach Nall is giving us the reps and coaching us up real well.”
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