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.--With Austin Golson moving to left tackle and Devonte Danzey gone, the center position for the Auburn Tigers is now in the hands of fifth-year senior Xavier Dampeer. A backup the last two seasons for the Tigers, Dampeer takes over the role this fall and how well he does is one of the biggest keys for Coach Gus Malzahn’s offense in 2016.
Since arriving at Auburn seven years ago as offensive coordinator, Malzahn has talked about the importance of the center position in his offense. It’s one of the reasons why Reese Dismukes was such a key for the Tigers in 2013-14 and why Dampeer could be the same this season.
Learning from Dismukes two years ago while playing very little, Dampeer lost out to Golson in the competition at center last season and lost his chance to get some serious playing time later in the season when he suffered a broken jaw trying to break up an altercation off campus. Now healthy and coming off a solid spring, Dampeer appears ready for his opportunity.
He's been a constant presence at the football complex throughout the summer and has put in the work needed to take his game to the next level. If his play on the field matches his desire to be good then Dampeer should have a strong senior season.
Best Case Scenario: The perfect scenario for Coach Herb Hand is to have Dampeer step in and take control of the offensive line while showing that he’s the man for the job. That is a must for the center and if Dampeer can do that it would allow the offensive line to build the chemistry needed to become one unit. The earlier Dampeer can settle in and show those skills the better for Auburn’s offense.
Worst Case Scenario: Probably the biggest question mark for Dampeer is his inconsistency snapping the football in the shotgun. That skill improved during spring practice, but if it creeps up again for Dampeer it would make for some tough decisions for Hand up front. In Gus Malzahn’s offense and any offense where the quarterback isn’t based under center, if the center can’t snap in the shotgun he can’t play.
Career Comparison: Jonathan Palmer was a player who always had the physical tools, but it took until his senior season for him to really get his opportunity. Starting all 13 games at right tackle for the Tigers in 2006 before hanging around the NFL for five seasons. If Dampeer can find his groove at center this season he’ll have the same opportunity to pursue a career in football.
Quote: “Yeah, Xavier has stepped up for sure,” senior offensive guard Alex Kozan said. “He’s really battled, especially after his misfortune last year. I think the positive attitude he has had has been really great to see, and I’m glad it’s finally paying off for him. He’s doing a great job for us at center. He’s really stepped up.”