Auburn Football: Previewing 5 Biggest Position Battles Heading into Fall Camp
The last few days of July can only mean one thing: We are only a few weeks away from the return of college football.
In Auburn, the countdown is on for the start of fall camp and the final stretch of the offseason. The defending SEC champions sorted some things out during a productive spring slate of practices, but there is still some sorting out to do before opening day against Arkansas.
Head coach Gus Malzahn did not release an official post-spring depth chart like he did last season, so there is still some mystery surrounding the replacements for several departed stars from Auburn's 2013 championship campaign.
Before the release of my pre-fall camp depth chart later this week, here is a look at what I consider to be the five biggest position battles that are still raging on the Plains.
Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant will continue their battle to be the newest feature back at Auburn this fall after a neck-and-neck spring.
Artis-Payne could be the between-the-tackles force Auburn needs after the departure of Tre Mason, and Grant's top-flight speed made him a constant touchdown threat as he gained almost 10 yards per carry last season. Their "thunder and lighting" styles complement each other well and seem to be a perfect fit for a by-committee system—but only one will be announced in the starting lineup Aug. 30 against Arkansas.
If there is no separation between the two during fall camp, Artis-Payne seems to have a slight edge over third-team All-SEC selection Grant. "CAP" has the build and experience coaches want in an every-down running back, while Grant is more effective on outside runs and sweeps.
However, true freshman Roc Thomas could break into the starting job this fall. The Tigers' coaching staff is already raving about his all-around talents out of the backfield, and Alabama's defending Mr. Football award winner could make a move to the top of the depth chart like former Auburn star Michael Dyer did in 2010.
Auburn's dominant offensive line only lost one player from last season, but it will not be easy to replace the incredible talents of Greg Robinson.
Fortunately for the Tigers, there is a potential replacement at left tackle whose physical gifts have already been compared to the No. 2 overall draft pick in this year's NFL draft.
Cancer survivor Shon Coleman, who signed with Auburn in 2010, appears to be the man to replace Robinson on the blind side of the offensive line. He took most of the first-team reps at the position toward the end of spring camp and was a target for praise among coaches and teammates in post-practice interviews.
Coleman's starting job is not set in stone, though, and former starting right tackle Patrick Miller could make a move back up the depth chart this fall. But after splitting first-team snaps with Coleman and rotating behind Avery Young on the right side during spring practice, Miller is projected to be a valuable backup to both spots during the regular season.
The battle to replace pass-rush specialist Dee Ford seemed to tilt toward sophomore Carl Lawson at the end of spring practices.
But all that has changed with Malzahn confirming Lawson's torn ACL and subsequent surgery, which will keep him out for a significant amount of time this season.
The name to watch after Lawson's injury is Elijah Daniel, who was a fellow signee with Lawson in the star-studded class of 2013. The larger Daniel did not get as many snaps as Lawson at end as a true freshman, but he made his presence felt on both the inside and outside of Auburn's constantly shuffling front four.
The Tigers' defensive line prides itself on size and versatility, so do not be surprised to see athletic defensive tackle Montravius Adams, another 2013 signee, get snaps at end this season. Auburn's coaches were also impressed with sophomore Gimel President this spring, and senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright likes what he has seen from the true freshmen ends who are now on campus.
While first-team All-SEC pick Gabe Wright has one defensive tackle spot locked down, someone will have to replace the veteran talents of longtime contributor Nosa Eguae this season.
If he does not make a more permanent move to defensive end this season, Adams is expected to win a starting job at tackle this fall. He recorded more tackles at the position than anyone outside of the starters and has already picked up high preseason considerations as an All-SEC selection.
Fifth-year senior Jeff Whitaker could get back into the mix at starter following his return from a knee injury that kept him out all of 2013. He brings a great amount of experience to the position alongside fellow seniors Ben Bradley and Angelo Blackson.
Like defensive end, Auburn's coaching staff loves heavy rotation at defensive tackle, so whoever loses out on the starting job will not be condemned to the bench for most of the season. The large amount of positional depth will grow this fall with the addition of junior college transfer Devaroe Lawrence and true freshman Dontavius Russell.
Jonathon Mincy's move to field cornerback, a spot previously held by Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis, has opened a battle at his old position of boundary cornerback that will continue this fall.
Josh Holsey, who missed a large portion of the 2013 season with a torn ACL, could grab the spot in his long-awaited return to the field. Although Holsey was a starting safety before his injury last season, he was recruited to play cornerback and earned a starting job there during the 2011 campaign.
If Holsey goes back to safety with returning starter Jermaine Whitehead and early JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief, Jonathan Jones seems like the favorite to become a starter. He has a rough history with injuries, but he has experience at both the field and boundary positions.
Newcomers who could find a way into the position battle this fall include senior Trovon Reed, who showed flashes of potential at the A-Day Game after his move from wide receiver. The coveted bigger cornerbacks Kalvaraz Bessent, Nick Ruffin and Joseph Turner are also on Auburn's campus this summer, providing even more competition for Holsey, Jones, Reed, Kamryn Melton and T.J. Davis.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.