Auburn, Ala.--Perhaps nobody was as surprised as Braden Smith himself when he learned that he was named a second-team All-SEC selection this season following his play at guard for the Tigers. A player who keeps his nose to the grindstone and doesn’t get caught up in hype or social media, Smith made huge strides as a sophomore for the Tigers and is looking to finish off a strong season with another big performance in the Birmingham Bowl on Wednesday.
Earning his only freshman start at offensive tackle in Auburn’s Outback Bowl loss to Wisconsin, Smith played tight end as well in 2014, but this season the physical lineman moved inside to guard and things fell into place for his game. A road grader as a high school lineman, Smith’s natural athleticism combined with his bruising style was the perfect fit as a guard in Auburn’s system and getting comfortable is something that has continued to help him grow as a player throughout the season.
“Definitely, since I haven't played guard before,” Smith said of the importance of just getting some playing time under his belt. “From the first game to the last game, huge difference. You definitely get a better feel for the game going throughout the year.”
“It’s been a long journey,” he added. “I started out last year at tackle now going to guard it’s been--it’s been quite the ride.”
Smith’s journey is just getting started for the Tigers with the possibility of another position change following Wednesday’s bowl game. With both Shon Coleman and Avery Young possibly moving on to the NFL it would mean a new look at offensive tackle for Auburn in 2016. While he admits he’s still getting comfortable at guard right now, Smith said if he’s needed elsewhere that’s something he’ll do if it means helping the team.
“If they need me somewhere, I’ll be more than willing,” Smith said of the possibility of a move. “I’ll let the coaches decide that. Never can tell.”
With Robert Leff earning some playing time at left tackle with Coleman out against Idaho and showing plenty of promise, one of the tackle positions could be in good shape next season. While Smith could get a shot it could also mean an opportunity for one of Auburn’s freshmen to step up. That guy looks to be Mike Horton.
“Throughout the whole year he has been getting better on everything like his pass sets, where his hands need to be,” Smith said of Horton. “He's kept with it the whole time. He's never got down about anything, which I'm really proud of him about. He's been doing really good.”
The 2016 season is still one game away for the Tigers, however, and that means another opportunity for this Auburn team to put together a full game. Only once did Auburn approach a complete game performance, in the win at Texas A&M, which left this team on the outside looking in on several occasions this year. Smith said sometimes that’s just how it goes and all you can do is just keep working.
“Sometimes you just don’t get the breaks you want,” Smith said. “I mean, really a lot of games could have gone either way, we just didn’t catch the breaks we wanted to.”
It’s going to be important for Auburn to not only catch some breaks, but make a few of their own when the Tigers take on a very good Memphis team in Birmingham. With one final chance to go out a winner Smith said getting another victory would be huge for a number of different reasons.
“It’s definitely important, especially sending off the seniors on a good note,” Smith said. “It’s always better to end the year on a winning record than a losing record. Better to go 7-6 than 6-7.”
The Tigers will begin practices in Birmingham on Sunday at Hoover High leading up to Wednesday's 11 a.m. CST kickoff at Legion Field for a game that will be televised on ESPN.