HOOVER, Ala. — Braden Smith didn’t struggle much with his decision to return to Auburn for his senior season.
After securing a spot on the All-SEC second team and picking up a few All-American honors, the door to the NFL seemed propped open for Smith at the end of last season. Still, the Kansas native felt he couldn’t pass up another chance to play under Herb Hand.
“Personally he’s made me I feel like, I’ve made a lot more strides,” the senior said at SEC Media Days. “He’s really taught me some things. He’s been a key developer for the offensive line. He was a factor, also.”
Hand is also largely why a switch from right guard to right tackle is less daunting for Smith. And the senior isn’t the only one benefiting from Hand’s guidance — that’s yet another reason Smith wanted to wear orange and blue for one more season.
“Definitely because I knew that there was going to be something special that was going to go on this year,” Smith said. “We have all the pieces. I think we have a chance to compete for titles and championships.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and his Media Days player representatives were vocal about this year’s team being one of the deepest Malzahn has had. That especially applies to the offensive line, where Hand has helped players grow to a point that mixing and matching along the offensive line is possible.
“Our O-line coach Herb Hand, I really like how he’s developed our players and helped me develop,” Smith said. “I think he’s really helped me going forward, and the rest of my teammates as well.”
Auburn led the SEC in rushing offense last season and ended up with a Sugar Bowl berth in January. And it’s not the first time Hand has helped Malzahn’s team find success. Tulsa boasted one of the nation’s best offenses in 2007 and 2008 under the duo.
Of course, Malzahn is expected to love his staff. He again voiced his admiration for what he considers “one of the best staffs in all of college football” last week in Hoover, Ala.”
“Our program’s to that point where this is an important year,” Malzahn said. “We’re excited. We think we’ve got a real chance.”
It doesn’t hurt that Hand helped the Tigers pick up FCS All-American Casey Dunn and Florida State transfer Wilson Bell. The two grad transfers bring signifiant experience and could have an immediate impact for Auburn — especially early in the season.
Hand has the offensive line under control, giving new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey the ability to focus on coaching his quarterback group and perfecting his new scheme.