AUBURN, Ala. — Consider Rhett Lashlee surprised.
In his post-practice interview with reporters on Thursday, Auburn’s offensive coordinator said he couldn’t understand why so much has been made of recent changes on the offensive line. Last week, Avery Young moved from right tackle to right guard; in turn, Patrick Miller shifted from left tackle back to right tackle — the same spot he manned for the first five games of last season. This led to Chad Slade — who started all 14 games at right guard during the 2013 season — being demoted to the second team and flipping to play left guard.
Lashlee said the reshuffling was simply a case of trying to build depth.
“I want to make it very clear, we've not made any changes to our offensive line,” he said. “I really don't know why people think that. We're doing at offensive line the same thing we're doing at receiver, the same thing we're doing at running back and everywhere else and mixing and matching people.”
He went on to cite an example: Just because Young is taking reps at right guard doesn’t mean he won’t remain at right tackle. The same goes for Slade at left guard, whose experience, Lashlee said, is beneficial for younger linemen who need more reps to prove themselves.
“He's played almost 40 games,” Lashlee said of Slade. “We feel like he's got a lot of snaps. But what happens if Chad Slade goes down in the middle of the season? What are we going to do then? Or what happens if Alex Kozan goes down? What are we going to do then?”
The coaching staff purposely waited until the middle of spring to switch things up, Lashlee said, since it wanted the starters to get comfortable first. With tinkering now underway, the returns have been good so far. Lashlee pointed to Miller and Shon Coleman. Instead of competing to win the left tackle job, they’re now on the field at the same time and benefiting from the increased reps.
Regardless, Lashlee said the starting lineup is far from being set.
“We're not going to make any decisions on depth chart in the middle of spring,” he said. “It's been really good to see that we've got guys that can handle being uncomfortable and in a different spot and still execute and we can run our offense."
Beyond the core members of the line who constantly rotate with the first-team — consisting of Coleman, Kozan, Young, Miller and Reese Dismukes — some of the Tigers’ less heralded players are taking advantage of their opportunities.
“The Devonte Danzeys of the world and the Robert Leffs and those guys we feel like will help add depth, they're still getting just as many reps with that second unit,” Lashlee said. “So we're able to mix and match some things at the first unit and still get reps with them at the second unit. We'll make those decisions where we think everybody's at right now at the end of spring.”