AUBURN, Ala. — Senior Alex Kozan knows the formula for a successful football team. In his opinion, winning requires every player to grasp his role, eliminate selfishness, and execute.
Early in fall camp, the Auburn offense has been working to realize those qualities. The quarterback competition has continued, receivers have strived for breakout seasons, and a talented group of underclassmen have been determining their responsibilities in the backfield. In the meantime, the offensive line has figured out the equation.
This season, the line returns three starters: Kozan and juniors Austin Golson and Braden Smith. Senior Xavier Dampeer has taken over as the center and tackle Robert Leff has shifted from the left to the right side. The Tigers have used the early days of preseason practice, where contact has been limited, to develop consistency.
“For us, the most important thing these first couple of days is getting our calls down, getting our cohesion down, because when you see offensive lines bust it’s because not everybody’s on the same page,” Golson told the media earlier this week. “If everybody’s on the same page, everybody knows what you’re doing, even if you don’t have the most talented guys you can still execute, you can still get first downs and succeed as an offense.”
Health has also contributed to the O-line’s progress. Kozan has recuperated from a back injury which caused him to miss the 2014 season, Dampeer is back after suffering a broken jaw last year, and Golson is recovered after missing time with a knee injury last season.
“I’d say it’s definitely important for chemistry. When guys are getting shaken around on the offensive line they never really settle into a comfort zone,” Kozan said. “I think you guys kind of saw that in 2014 when I was hurt, we had guys playing two or three positions during the year. Not that they can’t do that, but you don’t execute as much as if you play one position strictly.”
This week, Auburn will dress in full pads and begin concentrating on execution, where it has yet another advantage – the offense will compete against one of the most talented defensive units Auburn has had under coach Gus Malzahn.
“I don’t think we’re going to see anybody more talented than our defensive line with Montravius (Adams) and Devaroe (Lawrence) and Byron (Cowart) and all those guys,” Golson said. “I just think getting that good work with them every single day is going to be really good for us.”
That means the line has to contend with Carl Lawson every day, but the group stays positive even when the preseason first team All-SEC end succeeds.
“He’s by far the best I’ve ever seen or ever blocked or think I will ever block,” Golson told the media. “But I know at the same time we’re making each other better. So when I do get beat I don’t look at it as a negative really. I just look at it as, ‘Learn from it, move on.’”