AUBURN, Ala. — Avery Young never let on that he was playing hurt from the outset of last week’s BCS championship game.
But make no mistake, Gus Malzahn said: his starting right tackle was less than 100 percent, suffering a broken hand on the first play from scrimmage against Florida State.
The injury didn’t affect his performance all that much, as he was still protecting quarterback Nick Marshall and opening up running lanes until the end — including on Tre Mason’s 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 remaining.
Malzahn commended Young for seeing it through and refusing to be taken out.
“He’s a tough guy and a great competitor,” Auburn’s coach said. “He had a pretty bad ankle injury midway through the year and battled through that. He’s very athletic. He’s a great kid.”
Young is athletic enough that he may be tasked with replacing Greg Robinson. Robinson, a third-year sophomore, declared for the NFL Draft last week, leaving a void at the left tackle position. In his career to this point, Young has played exclusive on the right side, making 12 starts at tackle.
Throughout the season, however, coaches praised Young’s versatility, with Malzahn noting in August that the redshirt freshman had the ability to “play all five positions” on the line.
So could he be the player defending Marshall’s blind side come next fall?
“We haven’t got that far yet,” Malzahn said. “As we get done with recruiting we’ll start thinking a little more personnel-wise and all that.”
Whether Young gets a look at left tackle or not, the spot won’t be lacking for candidates.
Three names immediately came to Malzahn’s mind: Shon Coleman, Robinson’s backup who appeared in eight games in mop-up duty this season; Patrick Miller, who started the first five games of the year at right tackle before an undisclosed off-field issue opened the door for Young; and Robert Leff, a rising third-year sophomore who has yet to start a game in his two years as a Tiger.
Malzahn expects a lively battle to ensue once spring practice begins.
“We’re going to open that dude up and see who wins that job,” he said. “The good thing is we have a little bit of depth at that and have some experience.”