Auburn, Ala.--One of the most important players for the Auburn Tigers in spring football practice proved to be redshirt senior Xavier Dampeer. Returning as the starter at center, Austin Golson moved outside to left tackle for Coach Herb Hand because of a lack of experience at the position ,but also because of Dampeer’s development since last season.
Missing the second half of the 2015 schedule with a broken jaw, Dampeer worked hard in the offseason and continued that into spring practice and the results showed up in his play. A physical player who knows the offense, Dampeer stepped things up in a big way and Hand said that was important for his group as he continues to look for his starting five.
“He's another guy that I've been very, very pleased with,” Hand pointed out. “What's going to be the challenge now is what's going to be the best mix of guys? Who are the best five guys to put on the field to give us the greatest amount of success? That's what spring ball is for, to figure that stuff out, figure out your combination so once we do get into the summer, those guys can really start working together and getting used to each other.
“You'd like to have them in a unit so as they go through summer workouts they're really working together as a starting five, or a second five or there might be six or seven guys that you're working into your top five guys, but they've got to get used to working together as well. Once we get through training camp and before we open up against Clemson, we'll have that all sorted out. I really like the versatility of the guys to allow us to do that.”
Something that should help Hand as he tries to lock down his starting group in preseason practice is having several players like Golson who are capable of playing multiple positions. Mike Horton worked at offensive tackle in practice all last season as a true freshman before moving to guard in the spring. Starting right guard Braden Smith also has experience at tackle. Throw in redshirt freshmen Marquel Harrell and Tyler Carr and Hand has some versatility up front, which is important.
“We have a lot of swing-player types on the roster right now, guys that are maybe not 6-6 or 6-7, but maybe they’re 6-5, 6-4, but they got some good length that they could move their feet a little bit,” the offensive line coach said. “Maybe not quite as girthy as an inside guy, but they can still be physical enough to move the point at guard. Those are the sort of times of players that we have a plethora of right now, is swing players.
“Then we have inside combo players, and inside combo players are guys you hope could play both center and guard. A guy like Xavier Dampeer is a perfect example of a guy who’s an inside combo guy. Kaleb Kim, I think, can develop into an inside combo guy, though right now he’s just focused on center so you want the guys that have versatility.”
Dedicating himself in the offseason to making a strong run at winning the starting job at center, Dampeer has done everything well to this point to make that happen. Now a player that the Tigers will lean on as a leader this summer, Dampeer has made some big strides and Hand said he needs to keep coming.
“For Xavier, he’s pretty strong and he’s pretty fast, but for him it’s kind of been on the mental side,” Hand said. “He’s really come along mentally as a player, really gotten his calls down, done a good job of helping direct the unit, so that’s where I’d say I’ve seen the biggest improvement.”