AUBURN — Quarterback was the biggest question Auburn faced at the start of preseason practice a little more than three weeks ago, one that head coach Gus Malzahn answered last Tuesday when he named true freshman Bo Nix the starter.
But it wasn't the only question.
The No. 16-ranked Tigers also needed to sort out who would play where and how much in the H-back and tight end mix. Who would take over at split end/wide receiver? Which players would provide depth for a senior-laden offensive line?
On Tuesday, five days before Saturday's opener against No. 13 Oregon, Malzahn provided some answers in the form of the team's official depth chart.
Here's a look at how Auburn will line up at each position on offense at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, at least on paper:
Bo Nix (Fr.)
Joey Gatewood (R-Fr.)
Cord Sandberg (R-Fr.)
Outlook: We've known for a week that Nix would start the first game of his college career, making the five-star program legacy the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener for the Tigers since Travis Tidwell way back in 1946. The question is whether Gatewood, the second-place finisher in the competition that began way back in the spring, will have a role in the offense. Trying to use both quarterbacks makes sense, in theory, especially given how close the competition was — both are dual threats, but Nix is the more polished passer (3,807 yards and 50 touchdowns as a senior for Class 6A state champ Pinson Valley) and Gatewood is a fearsome runner at 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds. It seems like the Tigers could create some sort of package for the latter, and even though Malzahn might keep any plans close to the vest until Saturday, teammates agreed that Gatewood would play "a lot" this season.
JaTarvious Whitlow (So.) OR Kam Martin (Sr.) OR Malik Miller (Jr.) OR Shaun Shivers (So.) OR D.J. Williams (Fr.) OR Harold Joiner (R-Fr.)
Outlook: Yes — that is six possible starters for Auburn at running back. Malzahn said first-year running backs Cadillac Williams would have a rotation at the position, and what better way to put that on paper than this? The expectation is that the team's top three rushers last season — Whitlow (787 yards), Martin (458) and Shivers (371) — will again lead the way (Malzahn said Whitlow will probably be on the field first), but it will be interesting to see how Williams splits carries between them, as well as how he mixes in Miller, D.J. Williams and Joiner. The only player not listed here is true freshman Mark-Antony Richards, who underwent knee surgery during the fall.
Spencer Nigh (Sr.) OR Jay Jay Wilson (Sr.)
John Samuel Shenker (So.)
Harold Joiner (R-Fr.)
Outlook: Two positions combined into one. Gone are senior H-back Chandler Cox (a four-year starter) and tight end Tucker Brown, and here in their place are Wilson, Nigh and Shenker, who will be called upon to line up at both positions. Auburn plans to return to running a hurry-up, no-huddle offense now that Malzahn is calling the plays again, and that requires a player able to line up at both H-back and tight end so the offense can line up in multiple formations without having to substitute. The answer could be Wilson, a graduate transfer from Arizona State who has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates for his versatility and pass-catching ability. Nigh is expected to be the blocking fullback in sets where the Tigers need one of those.
Seth Williams (So.) OR Anthony Schwartz
Eli Stove (Jr.)
Matthew Hill (R-Fr.)
Sal Cannella (Sr.)
Shedrick Jackson (So.)
Will Hastings (Sr.)
Zach Farrar (Jr.)
Outlook: There are four positions listed here, but they're not set in stone — many of Auburn's wide receivers are trained to play both inside and out. Most notable is probably that Williams and Schwartz, Auburn's top two returning receivers, are listed at split end, which was a question after the early departure of Darius Slayton. Schwartz, who is questionable for the first game, is one of the fastest players in the country, and Williams dropped weight in the offseason to be able to play more outside. There were some concerns about this position during fall camp, given that both those players, as well as Stove and Hastings, were held out of practices for various reasons, but position coach Kodi Burns remained confident throughout. If Auburn can get some more consistency and production from veterans such as Cannella and Marquis McClain, as well as contributions from young players like Hill and newcomers like Farrar, this has the makings of a solid wide receiving corps.
Prince Tega Wanogho (Sr.)
Bailey Sharp (Sr.)
Marquel Harrell (Sr.)
Tashawn Manning (So.)
Kaleb Kim (Sr.)
Nick Brahms (So.)
Mike Horton (Sr.)
Jalil Irvin (R-Fr.)
Jack Driscoll (Sr.)
Brodarious Hamm (So.)
Outlook: From weakness to potential strength. Auburn returned only 40 starts on the offensive line last season, which ranked 114th nationally. This year, with Wanogho, Harrell, Kim, Horton and Driscoll all back, that number is 104, which ranks 12th nationally and first in the SEC. That is significant for the Tigers, who have ranked top-30 in total offense and won the West each of the previous three times they returned at least 70 starts up front (2010, 2013, 2017). The only real concern is the depth behind those five senior starters, especially with Austin Troxell probably lost for the year due to a torn ACL — Sharp will likely be first off the bench if there is an injury at tackle, and Brahms if there is an injury at guard or center, though J.B. Grimes said Irvin came on strong during camp.