Robert Leff (above) is having his most productive season for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--Throughout Auburn's struggle to gain bowl eligibility different aspects of the team have been dissected to discover why the 2015 Tigers haven’t played up to expectations.
The offensive line may not have started the year as well as the Tigers would have hoped, but over the course of the season the group has steadily improved, especially at run blocking.
Auburn is 31st in the nation and third in the SEC (behind LSU and Tennessee) in rushing yards per game with 200.9. Against Idaho on Saturday the line also showed it had quality depth.
With normal starting left tackle Shon Coleman and center Austin Golson being held out last Saturday due to knee injuries, a couple of Tigers were called on to fill those spots.
Devonte Danzey , a senior and a part-time starter at guard last season, got the shot at center because the backup, Xavier Dampeer, was sidelined indefinitely with a jaw injury after being hit by wide receiver Duke Williams, who was kicked off the team during the season.
At left tackle Robert Leff, a redshirt junior from Fairhope High, received his first start at the position. He has also played extensively at tight end.
“I thought (Danzey) did a good job,” said Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee. “A lot of times you don’t notice the snaps when he’s in there and that’s a good thing. Identifying fronts with a lot of the different things (Idaho) did, we didn’t have a lot of missed IDs or mistakes there. Overall, I thought Devonte did I nice job.
“Robert did a solid job as well,” Lashlee said. “He picked up where he left off the last game and we were able to rest Shon a little bit, which helped. He did everything well.
“Obviously, we ran the ball a lot more than we threw it,” Lashlee pointed out. “Rob has turned into a really solid football player for us. Whether he is playing left tackle or tight end, he has been a big plus for us this year and he has become one of the strengths of our offense.”
Auburn’s number one right tackle, Avery Young, noted he wasn’t surprised that Leff performed well vs. Idaho. “I expected that,” Young said. “He is a great athlete. He is just playing behind one of the strongest offensive tackles in the country, Shon Coleman, and he stepped up when he had to do. He did his job and did it real good, too.”
Lashlee said he is hoping that Golson and Coleman will be ready to play on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CST as the Tigers take on Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that will be televised on CBS.
“(Golson) is getting better,” Lashlee noted. “I like where he’s at. I think Shon (Coleman) is getting healthier. We know we are probably going to need both of those guys. I’m optimistic about everybody being able to go this week. Austin’s probably the most questionable of all those. We’ll just have to see how the week progresses.”
Devonte Danzey started seven games last season.
Thrusting Danzey into the role at center was not the plan to begin the season, but the move was something that Lashlee said the coaches felt comfortable with doing.
“It’s huge,” Lashlee said of getting Danzey quality playing time at center against Georgia and Idaho. “He is doing a really solid job for us. I mean he is a guy who had never played that position. You would expect a senior who’s played a lot last year to be the guy who could make that move. If he’s called upon again this week then it’s been good for him to play a full half against Georgia and a full game (against Idaho). It also helps that we are playing at home.”
Against Idaho the Tigers played walk-on Tucker Brown as the backup center when Danzey was pulled with the Tigers comfortably ahead in the second half. If Golson is unable to play vs. Alabama and something happens to Danzey, the plan would be to go with a more experienced player at that position with a pair of redshirt juniors, Will Adams and Avery Young, the possibilities.
“Will did take some snaps last week,” Lashlee pointed out. “We also went into the game with Avery having taken some snaps so we have two guys there that we could turn to.”