With the season almost here, we're taking a look at previewing the 2016 Auburn Tigers by each position group. The previous entries can be found in this story stream!
Key Losses -
Shon Coleman, Avery Young, Devonte Danzey, Jordan Diamond
Key Returnees -
Austin Golson, Alex Kozan, Xavier Dampeer, Braden Smith, Robert Leff, Mike Horton, Tyler Carr, Kaleb Kim, Deon Mix, Bailey Sharp
Newcomers (includes redshirts) -
(Prince Michael Sammons & Brodarious Hamm) - both are unavailable for some time. Sammons had to have surgery on his foot, and Hamm has been recovering from cancer treatments.
Causes For Optimism
Alex Kozan is healthy, Austin Golson is more comfortable at tackle (he started there as a true freshman at Ole Miss), Braden Smith is Braden Smith, and Robert Leff played well in relief of Shon Coleman last year and was a big part of Auburn's rushing success in the first half against Alabama before Coleman left that game.
That's your starting five on the line. Sure, I'm a bit concerned with Leff at the right tackle spot. He's been here a long time and is just now breaking into the starting lineup. Still, though, he was trusted as the jumbo man (I have no idea what the coaches call it) last year that Braden Smith played in 2014 and Coleman played in 2013. He undoubtedly wants to give it everything he has in his one big opportunity to shine and will go hard on every play.
He's really my only questionable spot on this line. The interior is extremely strong with Kozan, Dampeer, and Smith. If Kozan is back to his 2013 form, then there will be holes for the running backs to take advantage of. Whether or not they do is on them.
Causes For Concern
What is the depth like if any of them get hurt? If Golson gets hurt, I have no clue who plays left tackle. If Kozan or Smith go down, then I suspect Mike Horton takes the spot. If Leff gets hurt, then I don't have a clue who plays right tackle.
What's even more concerning is that this entire line will probably be gone after this season if they have an impressive year. So, we're going to have to find depth from somewhere. The good news is that Auburn signed a stellar offensive line class in 2015 and redshirted every one of them. Even better is that nearly all of them were early enrollees in 2015, so they've had two Springs and now are in their second Falls with the team and are still just redshirt freshmen. We just have no clue what they're capable of.
The other good news is that the defensive line is so stout that the 2s and 3s on the offensive line have been facing off against a slew of 4*s and 5*s in practice every day. When the time comes for them to be thrown into the fire, they'll have experience against some of the best in the conference.
As long as everyone stays healthy, though, I'm not concerned with the offensive line.
The line will go back to being a strength of this team. Braden Smith was named the SEC's most effective pass-blocker from last season. Kozan was a beast of a run blocker in 2013. They'll be able to protect White enough to give him time to deliver the ball. They'll also be able to open up holes in the running game.
Will it be a great offensive line? It very well could be. I think at the least it will be a dang good one.