Auburn, Ala.--As he heads into his redshirt junior season of Auburn football, A.J. Greene’s collegiate resume in not a particularly impressive one.
In 2007 he redshirted at Auburn after signing with the Tigers out of Brentwood, Tenn., Academy where he was an All-State defensive end.
In 2008 he didn’t letter and as he saw brief action in just one game as he was being converted from a defensive lineman to an offensive tackle.
In 2009 he saw mop-up duty at the end of blowout victories vs. Mississipi State and Furman. The rest of the year he watched from the sidelines and didn’t play enough to earn a letter.
The first hint that things could be changing in 2010 came during spring training when offensive line coach Jeff Grimes noted that the 6-5, 281-pound tackle was making progress. However, going into preseason drills Greene was not expected to seriously compete for the vacant right tackle spot that looked to be a battle between a pair of junior college transfers, Roszell Gayden and Brandon Mosley.
As the Tigers head into their third scrimmage of the preseason on Tuesday night, the right tackle starting spot is still up for grabs and Greene is in the mix along with Gayden, Mosley and sophomore John Sullen, who has made a move from guard where he played last year.
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn say that Greene has moved into contention for the spot vacated by 2009 graduate Andrew McCain.
“We still need a lot of improvement by him to figure out if he can help us on game day or not, but I would say from a year ago to now there has been a noticeable improvement,” says Chizik, who adds that Greene has a chance to emerge at the top of depth chart.
Talent has never been an issue for Greene, however, his experience level and desire to play to his potential has been.
His high school coach at Brentwood Academy, Carlton Flatt, noted that Greene got a late start playing football and would arrive at Auburn as a player who would need seasoning before he would be ready to play in the SEC. However, Flatt noted that big lineman has the talent to succeed in college football.
“Everybody has told me that,” Greene says. “Coach Grimes has told me that ever since he got here even when I didn’t have the right mindset and even when I wasn’t focused as I needed to be.
“He has always told me to keep my head up, keep grinding and keep doing what I?do and it finally clicked in,” Greene says. “I kind of took it seriously about coming out on the field and getting better every day. I?took that to heart and ran with it.”
Greene admits he wasn’t initially enthusiastic about his move from defense to offense.
“Sometimes I still think like a defensive lineman and just come off the line at somebody, but I have been an offensive lineman for a while so there is no excuse to think like that,” he says. “However, you still have to have that aggressive mentality.”
If the Tigers can find a solid performer at right tackle, the offensive line will have a chance to be a team strength with returning starters at the other four spots. That group includes center Ryan Pugh, guards Mike Berry and Byron Isom with preseason All-SEC left tackle Lee Ziemba.
Greene, who played right tackle in spring drills, opened preseason practice as a backup to Ziemba, but was moved back to the other side when nobody took control of the right tackle spot.
Greene notes that he has no idea when the coaches are going to select the starter at right tackle, but he knows that if he is going to be the guy there is no time to waste. “The scrimmage on Tuesday night is a really big one,” he says. “I am excited about it. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
To take advantage of it, he says in addition to working harder on the field he is studying the finer points of the game that he hopes will make him a better offensive lineman.
If he does break into the starting lineup, he will be joined on the OL by Berry, his former teammate at Brentwood Academy. “He has always told me to keep my head up and keep grinding and you can do it,” Greene says.
With the clock ticking on his collegiate playing days, Greene notes that he finally realized that he could do better. Much, much better.
“Everybody I have known as far as coaches has told me I have the size and talent to be successful,” he says. “I got into a slump with my focus, but I?have got my mind right and I am ready to come out and play hard every day. I am excited about it. This is an opportunity that I can’t pass up.”