Auburn football: Despite competition for jobs, offensive line keeps working together
AUBURN, Ala. — The A-Day spring game revealed that after a bumpy 2016 season Auburn may have figured out its quarterback woes.
The Tigers’ offensive line will have to be prepared to protect the eventual winner of Auburn’s quarterback competition — which at this point looks likely to be Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham — in September.
Offensive line coach Herb Hand experimented and shifted players throughout the spring in hopes of finding Auburn’s starting line this fall. While the Tigers are in the process of figuring out who will step in at each spot and fill holes left by Robert Leff and Alex Kozan, Hand has been pleased with what he’s seen.
In addition to the progress the group made through 15 spring practices, the lineman familiarized themselves with each other off the field. Whether it was in a meeting room, film session or by sharing an impressive meal at Hand’s home, the offensive line coach was encouraged with months left to determine his lineup.
Things have changed a bit in just one year for Hand and his players. They all were learning terminology simultaneously last spring (Hand’s first on the Plains). That’s made communicating easier with summer approaching.
“I know the guys. They know me,” Hand said. “That in itself has made it a lot easier. And they know each other. They know each other in terms from a communication progression on the field with the language that I brought here, how we call our stuff. We’re all speaking the same language now in the meeting room, on the practice field, in the stadium.
Still, a few players will adjust and need to “learn the language” through the coming months.
That includes two-time FCS All-America center Casey Dunn (Jacksonville State) and Wilson Bell (Florida State). Both are graduate transfers and arrive in Auburn this May. The Tigers also welcome 5-star tackle Calvin Ashley and 4-star tackle Austin Troxell with the rest of Malzahn’s 2017 class.
Repetition will be critical for players like Braden Smith, who’s making the switch from right guard to right tackle. It’s also significant for Prince Tega Wanogho and Prince Sammons, both of whom are relatively new to football. Senior center Austin Golson says communication remains the most important.
“Because we’ve got new guys in there and some at new positions,” Golson said. “That and experience with each other. Every time you play together you gain experience.”
Auburn’s offensive line was pleased with its play in the final scrimmage of spring, but as the leaves begin to change color the Tigers are hoping for more third-down conversions and success in the red zone.
Until it can collide with an opponent following postseason camp, Hand’s line will look to build on its connection.