Trio Of True Freshmen Pushing to Start On OL

Auburn offensive coach Jeff Grimes discusses, in detail, the competition for starting spots and the trio of true freshmen who are in the mix.

Auburn, Ala.--A trio of true freshmen continue to make a push for offensive line starting spots for Auburn as the Tigers put in the game plan for their Sept. 1st football season opener vs. Clemson.

Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes notes that a pair of true freshmen tackles from Florida, and a newcomer at guard from Colorado, are still in the mix for starting spots.

While redshirt freshman Greg Robinson looks to be the sure starter at left tackle, the right tackle spot could be there for the taking for either Patrick Miller or Avery Young.

Miller got a head start on college football as an early high school graduate. Young did not arrive at Auburn until this summer, but has made a quick, positive impression.

Patrick Miller is shown in a spring practice.

Guard Alex Kozan, who looks to be in the mix for a starting spot at right guard or left guard, is a summer arrival from Colorado, who has also impressed Grimes.

Chad Slade, the returning starter at right guard, looks to be the wildcard up front. He is expected to start again this year, but Grimes notes he hasn't decided if he will line up Slade inside at right guard or right tackle.

"He is a guy who can play either," Grimes says about Slade. "Some days I will look at him at guard and I think he is a really good guard and that is the best spot for him. Then, the next day, I will look at somebody else at guard and move him out to tackle and he looks really good at tackle so that (where Slade plays) has more to do with other people."

Chad Slade has won praise for his play this preseason.

Last season, as a redshirt freshman, Slade started the first game at right tackle before moving inside to play right guard the rest of the way.

Asked if he has an idea of where he will be playing on opening night vs. Clemson, Slade says, "I would say I am a slash right now. I am can go at both. Wherever Coach wants to play me, I want to play it. I am versatile and I can play either position."

Grimes notes he is close to choosing his starters for the opener and could have that done by the end of the week or early next week.

"We are not there yet, honestly, at a couple of spots," he says. "There are a couple of freshmen who have kind of separated themselves from the rest of the group and kind of put themselves into a position where they have a chance. They are certainly going to be in our two-deep."

Alex Kozan blocks defensive tackle Angelo Blackson (98) in a preseason practice.

With seven true freshmen to work with, Grimes has been playing a variety of combinations on the offensive line and that continues this week.

Another player getting a serious look for a starting spot at guard is redshirt freshman Christian Westerman. "He is definitely in the mix, too," Grimes points out. The same is true of the returning starter at left guard, senior John Sullen, who returned to action last week after missing practice time with a back problem.

"What we are doing each day is just putting pressure on those guys, putting different lineups together," Grimes says. "We are just trying to really make it as intense as we can and find out who can handle the pressure and who folds under it."

Miller, who arrived in January from Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., won praise from Grimes in spring practice and continues to do well. "He is definitely going to be in the mix," notes Grimes, who includes Kozan in that group as a guard.

"They have done a really good job--for freshmen they have picked up the system rather quickly. All of them still have so long to go, but the position that we are in we are committed to doing whatever we have to do to get our best five on the field.

"I have been in this position before and we didn't start a true freshman the first game, but game four I started one at guard and in game five I started another one at tackle," Grimes points out, noting that who starts in the opener may be different than who starts later in the season.

Grimes says if the Tigers go into the Clemson game with two players neck and neck at one position there is a chance he will give both playing time in the opener.

"I am pleased with the way they are picking things up," the line coach says of the freshmen. "Really, we have added more than we did in the spring.

"As an example in the spring just we kind of introduced our zone read package. We have got a couple of quarterbacks, especially with (Jonathan) Wallace here now...he is a quarterback who can operate back there, make decisions, keep the football or hand it off.

"There are some intricacies involved in the offensive line with that play, especially with the offensive linemen, that some people wouldn't understand, but those guys have picked it up pretty quickly.

"Everybody has really progressed a lot with that play and we have added a lot of the other pieces to it," Grimes says. "We just introduced it toward the end of the spring. We are just seeing now what we can do with it. We have got some good athletes. That is the comparison we are making to when Coach Loeffler (new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler) was at Florida.

"We have got a lot of guys like Quan Bray. While he may not be a running back, you motion him in and run the zone read and you have someone who is a triple option so to speak that you can pitch the ball to if the defense collapses on the zone read. I think some of the things we are going to do are going to help us."

In addition to playing both guard spots, 6-4, 294 Kozan has been getting some practice time at center. That is a change for a player who was exclusively a tackle at Valor Christian High in Colorado where he played on a state championship team.

"Alex wasn't a surprise to me because his high school film was as good as any I saw," Grimes says of a player who has won praise from his new teammates. "For a kid to play as a true freshmen they need a couple of things. One, obviously, they have to be physically ready.

"Two, they have to be smart because they have to learn the offense in a short amount of time, but maybe the most important element is a guy has got to be confident and emotionally stable enough to handle a lot of stress and pressure.

"It doesn't bother him," Grimes says of Kozan. "He will go out there and I can yell at him or he will mess up a play or get his butt knocked sideways by one of our big, more experienced defensive tackles. It doesn't bother him a bit. He goes right back to the huddle and gets the next play and goes at it full speed.

"He has got a lot of those intangibles that give him a chance to compete--maybe better than other guys at that age," the coach notes.

Grimes says Kozan received good coaching in high school, but has had to overcome a change in blocking schemes. "The thing that has been a challenge though is the style of offense they ran is really different from what we do and most college teams do," Grimes points out. "He was in one of those high schools where he had a lot of weight forward in his stance and had his butt way up in the air. They are just smoking off the football.

"Unless you are in a triple option offense you can't really do that at this level because the athletes are too good on defense and you end up missing them," the coach adds. "They end up in a different place than you thought they were going to be."

Commenting on what Miller, who is 6-7, 288, has done to get in the mix for a starting spot, Grimes says, "His attitude, his toughness, his work ethic. He is a kid who just shows up every day and he only knows one speed. Like all freshmen he gets his butt kicked a lot of times, gets frustrated--really gets angry about it sometimes because he is really, really competitive, but never gets down, never has a bad day in terms of being willing to come out and work every day."

Avery Young was a five-star recruit in high school.

Commenting on Young, who is 6-6, 296 from Palm Beachs Garden, Fla., High, Grimes says, "Number one he is just a tremendous athlete. A guy that size is not supposed to be that light on his feet, but they forgot to tell him.

"Again, coming from a high school offense that is a lot different from what we are doing. It has been a challenge for him to learn how to play the game at this level, but he has all of the tools. It is just a matter how quickly he progresses and then how quickly he progresses in comparison to some of these other guys."

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