Braden Smith (above) is a return starter at offensive guard.
Auburn, Ala.--Spring football is a time for experimentation on both sides of the ball, something that new Auburn offensive line Coach Herb Hand is taking to heart as he works with the Tigers for the first time since moving to the Plains from Penn State.
With 2015 starting offensive tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young both trying to take make it in the NFL, the first order of business has been taking a look at different guys at both left and right tackle. With veteran Robert Leff seeing time on both sides, that’s the starting point for Auburn this spring, but it’s far from the only option with Texas transfer Darius James, redshirt freshmen Mike Horton, Bailey Sharp and Tyler Carr, and even starting center Austin Golson getting reps at tackle as the Tigers get back to work following spring break.
A player who saw action at tackle at Ole Miss before transferring to Auburn, Golson has the ability to step outside if needed and with Xavier Dampeer back at center for his fifth year it’s an option the Tigers are taking a look at. While it’s more of a contingency plan at the moment, Coach Gus Malzahn said it’s something worth taking a look at during spring practice.
Austin Golson will be a redshirt junior this fall.
“He played a little tackle and a little center, too,” Malzahn said about Golson in practice. “Spring is always a good time to mix and match. Of course, the older guys you have a little more information about that has actually started and played. You’re always thinking about developing depth. Austin did play some tackle and he’ll also play center.
“He’s a veteran guy,” Malzahn added of his center. “I think you could put him at all five positions and I think he would be fairly comfortable. It’s just a matter of anytime there is a new position, there is a fine tuning some techniques that just takes a while. He has played it before and he’s a veteran guy so we’ll see how well at the end of spring how well he’s come on.”
Another player getting reps at another position is returning starting guard Braden Smith. With some experience at tackle, that’s something the junior is doing a little of this spring, but mostly he’s sticking at home on the right side at guard. Even with the bouncing around Smith said it hasn’t made things very difficult this spring because the players know what to expect and also how important it is to the development to the line as a whole.
“At the beginning of practice we pretty much know if we're going to be playing multiple positions,” Smith said. “We have a heads up. Like I said, it's just good for us. You never know when someone might go down and you need someone else to step up. It's always good to have that versatility.”
Herb Hand will have 15 spring practices to work with the offensive linemen.
In addition to the moving around this spring the offensive line is also having to get used to a new voice in the meeting rooms and on the practice field. Saying Hand really makes the offensive line focus on the fundamentals in order to improve, Smith said so far he’s seen nothing but positives from his position coach.
“The thing that stands out about him to me is that he has a lot of energy, and he's definitely a technician if anything,” Smith said. “He really emphasizes the little things, every little bit that goes into each type of block.”
With over half of the spring practices still remaining and an entire summer and preseason before Auburn takes on Clemson, the need to have the starting offensive line group identified isn’t a top priority for the Tigers just yet. Even though finding the five guys as early as possible would be a boost heading into the fall, Malzahn said at the moment the biggest concern is identifying who is ready to contribute.
“Offensive lineman, to have those guys in a specific position working together is very important, but at the same time in the spring you can develop depth,” the coach said. “You’re thinking ahead of time about the what ifs. What if this guy gets hurt, you have the ability to move. It would be great if we could (find the starters) but our bigger goal is to get two deep, get two deep at every position and have guys working together when they are working on their own in the summer.”