Coach Herb Hand (above) made the move to Auburn from Penn State.
Auburn, Ala.--Building on his first spring at Auburn coaching the offensive line, Herb Hand is looking to build depth in the preseason as the Tigers prepare to face one of the nation’s toughest football schedules this season.
With Xavier Dampeer stepping up at center, one of the top guard tandems in the SEC beside him in Alex Kozan and Braden Smith, and tackles Austin Golson along with Robert Leff having a solid preseason camp, Hand said the thing that stands out about his group so far is maturity.
“I really like the leadership of the group,” Hand said. “We have some guys with experience. You can’t put a price tag on experience. I like their toughness, work ethic and athleticism.
"Do we have a lot of work to do? Absolutely. We do need to have guys that are the younger guys and the depth have to keep developing. That goes from an execution standpoint. We can’t have missed assignments, but also a technique and fundamentals standpoint when you talk about attention to detail.”
Alex Kozan is a preseason All-SEC pick at left guard.
One of the positives about preseason camp to this point for Hand has been the ability to install a good bit of the offense with the line without a problem. Having five veterans who have been through this process time and time again, he said not only does it make it easier to get the older guys ready, they’re also able to help the younger guys get acclimated in the meantime.
“It helps with the development of your younger players because those older guys are like coaches on the field,” Hand said. “They bring a lot on the table from a leadership point because from a coachability standpoint, they still want to be coached, but the difference between being a starter in this league and an all-conference player in this league is in the attention to details. That’s where a guy like Alex Kozan wants to take that next step so he wants to be coached, but he also can coach some guys too.”
Behind the first group of linemen guys like Mike Horton at guard and Darius James at tackle have mixed in with the first team to get a feel for working with the top group. With center Kaleb Kim, guards like Marquel Harrell and Tyler Carr and others showing some promise behind the first line, Hand said the most important thing right now is to get them as ready to play as possible so they willl be ready if and when they are needed.
“Those guys just haven’t done it when the lights are on and the stadium is full and that’s a whole different deal,” Hand said. “What you want to do is create that experience as best you can at practice. We want to put a lot of pressure on them to execute and function. The best way to do that is to take a guy like a Mike Horton and plug him in with the first unit for some reps.
“Another reason for doing that, which gets overlooked for some reason, is at point Mike Horton is going against (Montravius Adams). That makes a difference like any other one-on-one matchup because you have to be on point to go against that cat. To do that it forces them to elevate their game and focus on going back to those attention to details when they’re playing our best.
“The other obvious reasons is to find out if you can plug and play in any situations because at this level, you plug a guy in, you have him ready to go. The big thing we want to do is build cohesion with the first five and really, the second five but also have the ability to plug and play from the second five.”