Auburn, Ala.--There are a lot of players on the 2016 Auburn football roster excited about getting on the field this season, but it would be tough to find one as pumped up as senior offensive Robert Leff.
A lifelong Auburn fan who has worked tirelessly for his opportunity to be a starter for the Tigers over the last four years, Leff is the favorite to win the starting job at right tackle.
With the chance to take the field in the season opener on Sept. 3 as a starter, Leff said he is building towards the moment when he can live out his dream.
“Really pumped for the season, the Clemson game and working to get back on the field again at Jordan-Hare,” Leff said. “I’m getting excited.”
Ending the spring as the first-string guy on the right side after playing left tackle much of last season behind Shon Coleman, Leff has spent part of his time since then trying to get used to playing on the right side once again. Constantly trying to improve his skills, Leff said in the back of his mind the thought that this is his last go-around in an Auburn uniform has been there.
“I would say this offseason I’ve still been striving to obviously get a lot better and I don’t feel like I’ve made it or made it to the top of the chain in any sense because I still see my flaws and see the areas I need to improve it,” Leff said. “They have always been there and they ae still there, but being a senior is really what has impacted this offseason and really made me go the extra mile in everything I have been doing. It gives you a whole different sense of perspective.”’
The perspective of playing right tackle and the challenge that presents has been only made tougher when you consider that often Leff is having to block Carl Lawson coming off the edge. While he admits he takes his share of losses in battles against the talented defensive end, Leff said in the end it’s going to make him a better player.
“You can focus on one thing at a time every day, but one little technique thing will let you down especially going up against somebody like Carl Lawson every day,” Leff said of trying to adjust to right tackle. “One little thing and he will have you beat. I’ll fix something one day and first play I get fixed he beats me with something else. It’s a challenge, but I’m grateful to be working with him.”
Robert Leff (70) has starts at tackle and tight end going into his senior season.
It’s not just Lawson who is presenting a tough challenge for Leff and the rest of the offensive line. With talented players like Derrick Brown, Antwuan Jackson and Byron Cowart having to rotate with the third defensive line at times because of the depth, the offensive tackle said that makes for a long day of working against fresh bodies time and time again.
From a pass rush perspective, Leff said in addition to Lawson he’s seen sophomore Jeff Holland really pick up his performance and become a player the Tigers will count on to get to the quarterback as well this season.
“In a way both Carl and Jeff are extremely good at the outside pass rush,” Leff said. “Jeff isn’t quite as good at taking on the run as Carl is, but I would say they are near equals as far as the outside rush. Carl has a bit more diversity as far as his moves, but Jeff is still a challenging pass rusher to block.”
Comparing the offensive line to a chain in that one weak link can cause it to fail, Leff said having the same five guys working together throughout the spring and now in preseason practice is a big plus for the Tigers right now. With talented players like Darius James, Marquel Harrell, Mike Horton, Deon Mix and Kaleb Kim fighting for playing time as well, Leff said the depth of the group only makes them stronger as they prepare for the grind of a new season.
“It’s a really experienced group and I think that’s going to lend well to this season,” Leff said. “I really like the chemistry we have together. All of us have been working together for a while. We don’t really have any newcomers to the line. I really like the shape that our line is in. Of course we have things to fix, but it looks good for now.”