Hart Loving The Chance To Perform

Offensive lineman Leon Hart talks about his increased playing time and playing tackle once again in a game.

Auburn, Ala.–-After playing very little last season as a true freshman, sophomore offensive lineman Leon Hart was looking to make an impact in 2005 for the Auburn Tigers. Despite not working out after a short stint at center, Hart kept working towards his goal of becoming a starter for coach Hugh Nall on the offensive line.

While that didn't work out to start the season Hart never let his confidence drop. During two-a-days the Columbia, S.C., native played center, guard and tackle as the Tigers looked for their best offensive lineman at each position. This past Saturday against Ball State Hart got his first extensive playing time of the season in the 63-3 victory and he says that it was fun to get on the field and get in the action.

"I had a real good time," Hart says. "I got a chance to get a lot of reps and I got a chance to go back to tackle. That was the first time in a long time that I have been back at tackle. I had a good time."

Hart sets for a pass rush during the Ball State game.

Playing so many different positions has kept Hart from being able to get comfortable at just one, but it hasn't kept him from progressing as a player. While he showed on Saturday that he has the chance to be a very solid replacement, Hart said that he's still fighting the battle of having to play a different brand of football at tackle than at guard or center.

"I'm kind of used to it," Hart notes. "The only tough thing about it is that after playing guard for so long and then some center, you have to get back used to the pass sets out at tackle. At guard you're not really used to setting that much with a lot of depth. With ends you have to get a lot of depth. I'm getting back used to it. My pass sets are coming along good now."

This season has been different for Nall and the offensive line than past years when the starting five players got almost all of the action in games. This season Hart, along with Steven Ross, Jonathan Palmer and King Dunlap, have played a great deal of football in recent weeks. That's something that Hart says he wasn't sure would happen coming into the year even though Nall said he was going to play more players in 2005.

"This is only my second year so I sort of believed him when he said it," Hart says. "Some of the other guys said that he's been saying that for a while so I didn't really know what to believe. I trusted his word when he said he was going to get us some reps."

With starters Marcus McNeill and Timmy Duckworth sitting out last week's game, the Tigers rushed for 390 yards and seven touchdowns in the victory on just 35 carries. It was the highest rushing total for an Auburn team since the Mississippi State game in 2003 when the Tigers piled up 405 yards on the ground. Last season against a comparable team Auburn rushed for 234 yards on 50 carries against The Citadel. Hart says that it was a big boost for the team to have so much success on the ground.

"It was a big confidence builder because we finally got a chance to get the running game established and we worked on a lot of things like technique, coming off the ball, and playing hard," Hart says. "We know that wasn't really a good team in Ball State, but like coach always says we're playing ourselves and not the other team. We just wanted to do the best we can do."

After struggling to find a consistent running game each of the first two games, Auburn turned loose backs Kenny Irons and Brad Lester on Ball State and the result was several big plays by the speedy backs. Irons had a touchdown run of 68 yards and finished the day with 148 yards on just 11 carries. Lester added 91 yards on just seven carries and had a run of 70 yards.

"It's really fun to be an offensive lineman when you're making holes for the running backs and blocking for the quarterback and they're out there making good plays and big plays," Hart says. "That really makes our job fun."

The Tigers have another chance to fine-tune the running game and the entire offense this Saturday when Western Kentucky comes to Jordan-Hare Stadium for homecoming. Hart says that he likes the direction of the offense at the moment and he sees a much different team than the one that went out the first week against Georgia Tech.

"Our confidence has really grown a lot as an offense since the Georgia Tech game," Hart contends. "If you look at it we've improved each and every game. It helped us with our confidence and we've gotten better all around since the first game."

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