Nick Coe and Marquel Harrell

Auburn defensive lineman Nick Coe, right, battles Auburn offensive lineman Marquel Harrell during practice.

AUBURN — Nick Coe walked in out of the oppressive August heat that baked Jordan-Hare Stadium on Thursday, wriggled out of his jersey and pads, and sunk into a chair by the door of the media room, soaking in the air conditioning as a flock of reporters began to surround him.

One asked the junior defensive lineman for his overall impressions of the Auburn’s first fall scrimmage. He said it “went very well.” Another asked what he thought of the defense’s performance. He said that group “didn’t just do their job; they did it with effort.”

Then someone asked Coe what position he played.

“I played everything,” he answered. “I played the whole D-line.”

There has been a lot of talk about Auburn’s defensive line leading up to the start of the 2019 season three weeks from today against Oregon in Arlington, Texas, and for good reason. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown is a potential top-10 NFL draft pick. Defensive end Marlon Davidson is a four-year starter who made a series of changes to his diet and routine this offseason because he wasn’t satisfied with his level of play last year.

The Tigers also have depth at Buck (T.D. Moultry and Big Kat Bryant); some interesting, if not completely healthy, options at defensive tackle (Tyrone Truesdell, Coynis Miller Jr. and Daquan Newkirk); and a quartet of highly regarded true freshmen (Derick Hall, Jaren Handy, Charles Moore and Colby Wooden). On paper, it’s among the most talented defensive lines in the country.

Coe’s ability to play all four positions up front takes the potential of that group to another level.

“Nick is very versatile,” Brown said. “He’s as strong as an ox. Day in and day out, he’s going to show that anyway — inside, outside, it doesn’t matter. He’s just quick.”

That’s not to say Coe is the only versatile member of Auburn’s defensive line. Position coach Rodney Garner loves moving his players around in an effort to create depth and options at all four spots.

Brown has played both end and tackle in his career. Davidson often moves inside to tackle on passing downs. Bryant can play Buck and end. Newkirk was the top-ranked JUCO defensive end in the country in 2017 before focusing on tackle after he arrived on the Plains. Handy has played both inside and outside during his first fall camp.

But Coe is unique. Last season, he recorded a team-high seven sacks in 10 starts at Buck — the same pass-rushing spot that made stars out of Carl Lawson (nine sacks in 2016) and Jeff Holland (10 sacks in 2017). Those players were listed at 6-foot-2, 253 pounds and 6-foot-2, 255 pounds, respectively.

Coe, a national heavyweight wrestling champion out of Asheboro (N.C.) High School, enters the 2019 season listed at 6-foot-5 and 291 pounds — nine pounds heavier than what he was listed at in 2018.

With Miller limited due to a shoulder injury and Newkirk expected to be sidelined throughout fall camp and beyond as he continues to recover from an Achilles injury, head coach Gus Malzahn described Coe as “probably the No. 1 guy” Auburn is looking at to replace graduated four-year starter Dontavius Russell at the defensive tackle spot next to Brown.

“He’s done that before,” the seventh-year head coach said. “It’s something where he gives us flexibility within that position.”

Where that flexibility should really shine through is on early downs. Coe is already a constant at tackle in Auburn’s “Rabbits” package, which is used to create as much pressure on the opposing quarterback as possible in obvious passing situations. But when Oregon lines up first-and-10 on its first drive at AT&T Stadium, there are multiple ways the Tigers can counter.

They could go with Coe at the same Buck spot he occupied for much of last season, leaving that second defensive tackle spot next to Brown open for either Truesdell or, if healthy, Miller (Newkirk is not expected to be ready for the opener). They could also play Coe at that tackle spot, leaving Buck open for either Moultry or Bryant.

The most likely outcome is that Auburn will do a lot of both. Coe said he only played “like five snaps” as a three-technique defensive tackle in high school, but he believes he could play half his snaps there this season if the coaching staff asks him to. There’s a good chance it will.

“We’re going to use everybody,” Garner said. “We’re going to try to find the best combination that’s going to give us the best opportunity to be successful. I’m sure we’re going to mix and match and do a lot of things based on who we’re playing against, the different kind of personnel we’re facing, the kind of offense we’re facing. We just got to be creative.”

No matter where he lines up, Coe will be a key part of that creativity.

“I don’t mind playing any position, as long as it helps the team,” Coe said. “I just have got to get better and work at it and make sure I’m always there, mentally, because it’s a different ball game when you’re closer to the ball. You get at defensive end and Buck and all that stuff, you usually get blocked by one person. Now you’ve got to expect to get double-teamed, trapped, all that other stuff.”

But he knows how to handle that.

“I’m a wrestler,” Coe said. “Stay low, stay in the gap area and compete.”

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