Auburn is still in wait-and-see mode when it comes to senior offensive lineman Nick Brahms.
Brahms has been sidelined for much of pre-season while dealing with an undisclosed injury, leaving his availability for the start of the season in question. The uncertainty surrounding Brahms’ status appears to continue into game week, with Auburn’s season opener against Mercer just eight days away.
“Right now we need to know where he is because there are still things he’s working on at this point,” Auburn coach Bryan Harsin said Thursday night on his weekly radio show.
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Brahms, it should be noted, underwent knee surgery in December which kept him out of the Birmingham Bowl and restricted him in spring training. He was all-out for the start of fall camp, working with the first-team offense earlier this month before being sidelined for the past two weeks.
A sixth-year senior, Brahms opted to return to Auburn and take advantage of the free NCAA eligibility year made available to student-athletes during the pandemic. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder has started 33 games at Auburn over the past four seasons, including 28 consecutive starts at center spanning the second half of the 2019 campaign and culminating in last season’s Iron Bowl.
“Nick is a guy, he chose to come back, and he has experience, he’s tough, he wants to succeed on the football field once again,” Harsin said. “And we will see…. We’ll see what that looks like as his career progresses.
Although Brahms hasn’t been able to practice lately, Harsin said the veteran lineman has remained committed to the team and has been a valuable resource to the rest of Auburn’s offensive line. This includes the group of players receiving center work in his place.
The best option at this point appears to be junior Tate Johnson, who has received the bulk of first-team reps at center for the past two weeks. Johnson lacks experience, having played just one game as a reserve during his time at Auburn, but has made tremendous progress throughout the offseason. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound player stepped in and acclimatized well, earning the trust of his fellow linemen.
“Tate got quite a few reps in there, and I think he did a really good job,” Harsin said. “I feel good about how he looks and how he functions in this position.”
Seventh-year Brandon’s senior board also rotated to center. The board, which competed with Kam Stutts for the starting position at left guard, offers previous starting experience at center. He made two starts there during the 2019 season while at Akron. Avery Jernigan and Jalil Irvin are Auburn’s other options at center. Irvin has been Brahms’ main backup for the past two seasons and has started the Birmingham Bowl in place of Brahms, but he’s also seen time at right guard this pre-season.
Harsin said Auburn’s staff will solidify what things will look like with the offensive line over the weekend and make a decision on the best roster next week — although Brahms’ status is unclear. here there.
“I think the O line has done a really good job, and we have veteran players, and I like what I’ve seen from them,” Harsin said. “Coach (Will) Friend did a really good job of emphasizing a lot of the running game this fall camp, and I think the guys responded to that…. ‘another year in the system, another year of experience with these guys, and then really understanding what we’re trying to accomplish and showing up.
Tom Green is a Beat Auburn reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.