AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn will be without one of the key pieces of its offensive line for the entirety of the 2014 season.
Following the Tigers' first practice of the fall, coach Gus Malzahn announced that Alex Kozan had recently undergone surgery on his back that would keep him sidelined this fall.
"He injured his back while he was home lifting during the summer. He came back, we tried to rehab it, do some different things and he tweaked it," the coach said of the third-year sophomore. "The doctors just felt like it was the best thing for him and his future to have surgery. He will miss the season."
Kozan, a native of Castle Rock, Colo., started all 14 games for the Tigers at left guard last season, playing well enough to be named a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. Big things were expected of him this season as well, as Kozan had already been named to the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the nation's top interior lineman.
Malzahn admitted that Kozan's absence was "a big blow for our guys up front."
Even so, he believes the offensive line has built up enough depth to overcome the loss.
"We do have quality depth up front," he said. "I'll take you back to the spring: Avery Young played some guard. That was good. We will kind of mix and match probably the first week or so, and we'll see what happens with that."
With Kozan out, the line sported a new look on Friday during the portion of practice open to the media. Chad Slade moved from right guard to left guard. That put Young at right guard, where he took a handful of reps during the spring. The rest of the offensive line consisted of Patrick Miller at right tackle, Shon Coleman at left tackle and Reese Dismukes at center.
When Dismukes heard the news about Kozan, he could only shake his head.
"That's not what you want to hear. One of your guys, especially you put a lot of work with, to go down," said Dismukes, entering his fourth year as the Tigers' starting center. "It's tough — and not like heartbreaking — but you ache and hurt for him knowing he wants to be out there with the guys. You've just got to be there for him and work with him and hope for the best for him."
At this point, Dismukes said, all the Tigers can do is move on.
"It (stinks) losing 'Big Al,' but who knows if there's going to be a drop-off?" he asked. "We've only been together one day, so we're going to have to keep getting better, better, better. Obviously we're not going to be what we were. Without him, we're going to be a different five. ... Who knows what will happen 28 days from now?"