Auburn, Ala.--Heading into the 2016 season one of the biggest question marks for the Auburn Tigers was at the offensive tackle position. Losing Shon Coleman and Avery Young to the NFL, first-year Coach Herb Hand looked to Austin Golson and little-used fifth-year senior Robert Leff to get the job done.
Performing well on the left side before moving back to center, Golson’s move back to the middle has been a key to success for the Tigers but just as important has been the play of Leff on the right side.
Originally committed to Southern Miss out of Fairhope High before getting a late offer from the Tigers, Leff struggled to put on weight his first few seasons on the Plains and got very little playing time as a backup before finally getting his shot to show what he could do last season.
A second-team offensive tackle, Leff’s biggest contribution came in short yardage and goal line situations when he lined up at tight end for the Tigers. Showing the ability to run block and clear out space, Leff’s play in 2015 set the tone for what has turned into a very strong final season with the Tigers.
“Robert is playing very physical,” Coach Gus Malzahn said. “Robert came on last year. He did our unbalanced look and he played some tight end. He blocked extremely well at the point of attack. He’s really emerged as one of our top guys.
“He’s pass protected extremely well. When running behind him and running to him, he’s been one of those consistent guys. He’s playing his best football. He’s a senior. He’s had a role up to this season. He’s really established himself as one of our better offensive players.”
Not only has Leff impressed his coaches and teammates with his play at right tackle, he’s also impressing people around the country. Recently Pro Football Focus had a breakdown of Auburn’s offensive line play and had this to say about what Leff has meant to the Tigers:
“Right tackle Robert Leff is one of the best offensive linemen in the nation, and it shows when you look at the breakdown of how much success Auburn has had running through various points of attack. The average 7.0 yards per carry off right tackle, 7.1 yards per carry off right end, and 5.8 yards per carry on runs between right guard and right tackle. From the eight run positions from left end through right end, the runs that go closest to Leff make up three of their four most successful run positions, in terms of yards per carry average. He makes a lot of big things happen for the Auburn running game.”
The praise is well-deserved for Leff and the Auburn offensive line with the Tigers averaging 303.4 yards per game on the ground this season. Since the Clemson game the offense has been held under 200 yards rushing just once, 149 by LSU, and has three games with over 400 yards on the ground.
Saturday, Auburn will look to keep rolling behind Leff and company with the Vanderbilt Commodores coming to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. and can be seen on ESPN.