Editor's Note: These lists feature our thoughts on the most important players for Auburn heading into the 2016 football season. We are counting down 16 key Tigers for the offense and 16 more for the defense as Coach Gus Malzahn's team prepares to face Clemson in the season opener.
Auburn, Ala.--Now with a full year of play under his belt after missing the entire 2014 season following back surgery, left guard Alex Kozan is looking for a strong finish as he heads into his senior season with the Auburn Tigers.
A starter in all 27 football games he played in during his time with the Tigers, Kozan is a physical presence on the line of scrimmage who is at his best in the run game. Improving his skills as a pass blocker along the way, Kozan has a chance to be one of the top college guards in the country this season and teams up with another returning starter, Braden Smith, to give the Tigers a strong one-two punch at the guard spots.
The good news for Kozan is that he played his best football of the season later in the year as he got stronger and more confident that his back was going to hold up. It was obvious early last season that he was rusty and as that wore off the old Kozan began to shine through.
That will be needed this season with the Tigers likely to depend even more on the running game, especially early in the season. With very little experience at wide receiver and still questions at quarterback, Auburn’s offense could be more ground and pound early, which is right up Kozan’s alley.
Best Case Scenario: The best thing for Kozan and the Tigers would be to see him pick up where he left off last year in the win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl. Looking as energetic as he did all year long, Kozan was active and knocking players off the ball in Auburn’s running attack. Getting that kind of play again this season is almost a must for the Tigers if they hope to take the offense to another level.
Worst Case Scenario: Kozan’s doesn’t get all the way back and he struggles to become the player he was as a redshirt freshman. We saw some glimpses of what he could be last season, but it wasn’t sustained. That’s the player Auburn needs to have in 2016.
Career Comparison: Signed as a tight end by Auburn before moving to the offensive line, Chris Gray was a physical run blocker during his career with the Tigers. Drafted in the fifth round in the 1993 NFL Draft, Gray played 15 seasons before retiring after starting 121 consecutive games at either guard or center for the Seattle Seahawks.
Much like Gray, Kozan is a player who thrives in the physical running game and because of his ability on the interior and his knowledge of the game could easily make the transition to center on the next level.
Alex Kozan works against Tennessee in a 2013 win
Kozan At His Best: It’s hard to beat his play and that of the entire offensive line in the 55-23 win over Tennessee in Knoxville in 2013. Dominating at the point of attack, Kozan helped lead the way for a rushing attack that totaled 444 yards on a day when the Tigers threw just seven total passes. Auburn finished the game with 26 consecutive running plays.
Quote: “I’m really getting better at my pass protection, which has been a big deal for me,” Kozan said. “Then in the run game, as I continue to work in the weight room and get stronger, I can pretty much do all the stuff I want to do. For me, it’s just getting all those reps, getting my body used to it.”