Auburn football sounds confident in 3 competitors for starting center job

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Can Kaleb and Nick get the job done at center?

– @tntiger2

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football lost both of its starting centers from the 2017 season. And while there was talk of shuffling linemen to bolster the battle in the middle, the Tigers seem determined to find a replacement from three current competitors.

Junior Kaleb Kim, redshirt freshman Nick Brahms and senior Tucker Brown — who spends most of his time at blocking tight end — are in the running for the starting center job.

“We’ve got the three guys are competing for the job right now,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said last Friday. “[Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes] has really rotated all three. We could possibly start narrowing things down when we get back, we’ll decide but he wants to have good competition at every position and, of course, that’s a key position.”

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Auburn had previously discussed playing junior and current starting guard Mike Horton. Yet Malzahn and Horton have both made it sound like the Atlanta native won’t be a major factor in the battle this offseason.

“I’ve only talked to [Grimes] about that once and he just told me, ‘Sure, play with the ball in your hand. Get a feel for it,’” Horton said last week. “But I think I’ll be playing guard.”

Brown is a wild card. The walk-on has previous experience on the interior line, and specifically center, from his playing days at Hewitt-Trussville (Ala.) High School.

“We just felt real strongly that we needed to let him compete for that job,” Malzahn said. “So those three guys have been the guys that have been really rotating.”

Auburn football-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Nick Brahms
Auburn offensive lineman Nick Brahms overcame a nasty leg injury in his senior year of high school to star on the Tigers’ scout team in 2017. (Justin Ferguson/SEC Country)

Ultimately, the center battle is pointing toward Kim and Brahms. (Freshman lineman Jalil Irvin, who arrives this spring, will most likely be the third scholarship center in competition during fall camp.)

Kim has the experience advantage. He signed with Auburn in 2015 as a 4-star recruit from Buford, Ga. He redshirted his first season and played in three games as a backup center in 2016.

Auburn added another veteran who could play center in Casey Dunn last offseason, so Kim’s chances of getting serious playing time in 2017 were never high. He played in seven games at both center and guard.

Kim knows the system and has learned behind several strong offensive linemen in his Auburn career. As a fourth-year junior, Kim has taken the first-team reps at center during both of the open viewing windows in spring practice.

Just because Kim hasn’t broken through in his first three seasons at Auburn doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of being an SEC-quality starter at center. Former Auburn offensive lineman Robert Leff spent four years as a reserve before becoming a second-team All-SEC tackle as a senior in 2017.

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But the door is open for a younger player such as Brahms to take over the position. Brahms missed his entire senior season of high school with a leg injury, but he had a strong redshirt season on the Plains in 2017.

The Navarre, Fla., native was Auburn’s scout team offensive player of the year in 2017, taking on the Tigers’ elite first-team defensive tackles on a regular basis. Malzahn said in December that Brahms had “some fight to him” and “a lot of courage.”

Brahms has been the second-team center during practices, but Grimes has steadily rotated him with Kim and Brown. There’s a lot of upside in Brahms, who could be a longtime starter at center, much like Reese Dismukes was during his Auburn career.

The Tigers could add a graduate transfer along the offensive line in the next few months, as well — even though they missed on Rice tackle and graduate transfer Calvin Anderson. Dunn was an early-summer surprise, for example.

However, Auburn’s coaching staff sounds prepared to forge ahead with its trio at center. Whoever makes the biggest strides after spring break could be the one in the starting lineup on Sept. 1 against Washington.

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