Auburn Alabama Football

Auburn offensive lineman Calvin Ashley (70) celebrates after the Iron Bowl NCAA football game between Auburn and Alabama on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn defeated Alabama 26-14.

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AUBURN — It's no secret that Auburn has been approaching a crisis of depth on the offensive line.

The problems began early last season, when a relatively inexperienced quintet of Prince Tega Wanogho, Marquel Harrell, Kaleb Kim, Mike Horton and Jack Driscoll struggled to make up for the loss of senior stalwarts Braden Smith, Austin Golson, Darius James and Casey Dunn.

Those problems could certainly continue in 2020 — Wanogho, Harrell, Kim, Horton and Driscoll are all seniors.

And the depth behind that group took another hit Monday, when former five-star offensive tackle Calvin Ashley announced on Twitter than he intends to enter his name into the NCAA Transfer Portal and leave Auburn after two seasons with the program.

"After much thought and consideration and talking to my family, I have decided to enter my name in the NCAA Transfer Portal and will explore my options," Ashley wrote. "I would like to thank the great fans and the coaching staff at Auburn for believing in me. To my teammates/brothers, I will indeed miss the moments shared with you all and wish you all the best."

Ashley was the 10th-highest-rated signee in program history when headlined Auburn's Class of 2017, and he arrived on campus that summer with promises of being given a chance play early in his career. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn mentioned him in the same breath as Greg Robinson, who redshirted as a freshman but was so talented a college player that he went on to be come the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft two years later.

But the Orlando, Florida native and Washington D.C. product hardly saw the field in two years with the Tigers. Ashley redshirted as a true freshman in 2017 and appeared in only five games this past season. He was locked in what offensive line coach J.B. Grimes described as a "dead heat" with fellow 2017 signee Austin Troxell for the starting job at right tackle coming out of spring practice last year, but Driscoll, a graduate transfer from UMass, won the job over both of them in the fall.

The 6-foot-6, 322-pound Ashley started only one game in 2018, in place of the injured Driscoll during a 23-9 loss at Mississippi State on Oct. 6.

"There were some areas, I though, in the run game where he did a nice job," former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said of Ashley after that game. "He's a big body, and an athletic guy, just did a nice job of maintaining blocks and pretty much assignment-wise he was in good shape. Just technique, he's still got to improve technique in pass pro, but first live action against one of the best pass-rushers in the league, I thought he did OK."

That proved to be Ashley's final game of the season, as he missed the final seven games with an undisclosed "medical issue."

It looks as though that will go down as Ashley's last game for the Tigers, too — players can place their names into the NCAA Transfer Portal, talk to other teams and explore their options without leaving their current program, though signs (including his well-wishes to teammates and coaches) point to Ashley not returning.

Ashley is one of nine five-star recruits (according to the 247Sports composite) to sign with Auburn since Gus Malzahn became head coach in 2013, and he'll be the third to transfer, joining running back Roc Thomas (Jacksonville State) and defensive lineman Byron Cowart (Maryland).

Four of the other five-star recruits — Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson, Tre' Williams and Derrick Brown — had or are having productive careers for the Tigers, and the most recent two — Owen Pappoe and Bo Nix — signed in December and enrolled in January.

Ashley's departure is significant because of the depth he helped represent on the offensive line. Malzahn said last week that he feels "very good" about what the Tigers' have up front going into the 2019 season, as the grouping of Wanogho, Harrell, Kim, Horton and Driscoll got better as last season progressed and will have a spring, summer and fall together to continue that ascension.

Take away that quintet, fellow senior Bailey Sharp and now Ashley, though, and Auburn has only 10 scholarship offensive linemen set to be on the roster when the 2020 season begins.

Here's how the Tigers break down by class at that position going into 2019:

Seniors: Driscoll, Harrell, Horton, Kim, Sharp, Wanogho

Juniors: Prince Micheal Sammons

Sophomores: Nick Brahms, Brodarious Hamm, Tashawn Manning, Austin Troxell

Redshirt freshmen: Jalil Irvin, Kameron Stutts

True freshmen: Kamaar Bell, Keiondre Jones, Justin Osborne

Of those 10 players slated to be on the roster beyond 2019, only three — Sammons, Troxell and Osborne — have been considered tackles, and Sammons is unlikely to be a factor after appearing in only one game over three years with the program. Hamm, Manning, Stutts and Jones are considered guards,and Brahms, Irvin and Bell centers.

Malzahn has already said that 2020 could be Auburn's largest offensive line class of his tenure, with a target number of anywhere from five to seven signees at the position. The Tigers got that group started with a commitment from four-star Blackshear, Georgia, tackle Avery Jernigan on Thursday.

Ashley's impending departure makes that even more important than it was already going to be.

"There’s some guys that are young that I think are going to be really good players, too," Malzahn said. "I really don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about right now. You look nowadays, a lot of offensive linemen can come in and play early and that’s what we’ll be looking for in this 2020 class. I think it’s a positive because usually the elite guys want to come in and play early."

This article originally ran on annistonstar.com.

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