AUBURN, Ala. — It’s looking more and more likely that Austin Golson’s move to left tackle this spring might just stick.
The Auburn center, an 11-game starter at the position last season, has spent most of the spring at left tackle, where replacing future NFL draftee Shon Coleman has become a top priority for first-year line coach Herb Hand.
“Austin is settling in at tackle,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Saturday. “He’s also had some reps at center, but he’s starting to feel more and more comfortable. It takes awhile out there on the edge. Blocking our defensive ends have been very good for him to see the pass rush and all the games people play. He’s done a solid job.”
Senior Robert Leff, a career backup, appeared to be in line to earn the starting job but Hand has mixed things up since his arrival on the Plains in January. Golson (6-foot-5, 305) and Texas transfer Darius James (6-foot-4, 332) are battling for the starting job on the left side, though James has also seen time at right tackle.
James was a five-star prospect out of the high school ranks before a knee injury derailed his Texas career. He transferred to Auburn in the summer of 2015, sat out the season and will be eligible in the fall.
“Darius has an incredible amount of talent,” Hand said. “He’s an athletic guy, he can move his feet. He’s got some natural ability that we’ve just got to fine tune.”
Tackle is nothing new for Golson. He played right tackle for Ole Miss before transferring to Auburn following the 2013 season. He moved to center to replace Rimington Trophy winner Reese Dismukes during his first season at Auburn, but appears set to possibly stay put at left tackle thanks to the emergence of senior Xavier Dampeer at center.
“Xavier is very comfortable,” Malzahn said. “He’s been in our system a long time. He’s just so much more confident and his snaps have been excellent. He’s had a very good spring.”
Dampeer served as Golson’s backup last season until receiver D’haquille Williams injured his jaw in a fight in early October. He missed the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery. Williams was booted from the team.
Hand and Malzahn will decide after the A-Day game Saturday whether to keep Golson at left tackle or move him back to center. Either way, Hand said the strength of the offensive line is the interior players: Alex Kozan, Dampeer and Braden Smith.
“What’s going to be the challenge now is what’s going to be the best mix of guys?” Hand said. “Who are the best five guys to put on the field to give us the greatest amount of success? That’s what spring ball is for, to figure that stuff out, figure out your combination, so once we do get into the summer, those guys can really start working together and getting used to each other.”