AUBURN, Ala. — In April, Rhett Lashlee made a forceful point about Auburn's offensive line. Despite media members noting multiple changes in the makeup of the line during open viewing portions of practice, the offensive coordinator denied that any changes had been made to the starting unit.
The reason Chad Slade — who started all 14 games at right guard last season — took some reps at left guard during the spring was all part of a contingency plan.
"What happens if Alex Kozan goes down, what are we going to do then?" Lashlee asked April 10. "I know Coach (Gus Malzahn) said it the other day, it is by design. We waited ... (to) start mixing and matching guys to see how they work and move guys around as we need to as the season goes on, because we never know what's going to happen."
Fast forward to the first day of fall camp Aug. 1: Malzahn announced Kozan would miss the 2014 season following surgery on his back. And that meant those reps that Slade had taken at left guard — which shifted Avery Young to right guard from right tackle — during the spring proved quite beneficial.
Never miss a local story.
And instead of competing with Patrick Miller at right tackle, as Young did during last year's fall camp, he is now working beside his former foe.
"It's not too different," Young said. " ... We still work together as if I was a tackle. Nothing much has changed. I did play a little bit of guard in the spring, so I'm kind of used to it."
Young had never played guard before he started getting snaps there this spring. But he took a liking to it almost instantaneously.
"Pulling," he said when asked about his favorite aspect of the position. "Hopefully I'll get that kill shot on somebody one day and just try to knock their helmet loose."
Well, there is one part about pulling he doesn't like.
"I love it unless we're pacing the same play like 20 times," Young said. "Then I can't hardly breathe. Other than that, it feels good."
The biggest difference between guard and tackle, Young said, is the type of player you have to square off against at the line of scrimmage.
"Everybody else (inside) is so much bigger, and it's more fast-paced," he said. "You just have to be on your game."
That's why it helps to have Slade to approach whenever he needs some pointers.
"Sometimes, right before the play, I ask him what he's supposed to do, just to make sure I've got everything right," Young said.
After starting the final nine games at right tackle last season, Young believed he had started to master the spot. Now he plans to do the same at right guard.
Heck, he'll do the same at center if he's called upon by the coaching staff.
"I'm a great snapper. I already did that," Young said. "I actually did that a couple of times, got a few snaps after practice."
Being able to demonstrate his capability to play any position was part of the reason Young never hesitated when asked to move to guard.
"I kind of looked forward to doing it, just to show that I'm versatile," he said. " ... I've got a year of tackle up under my belt, and we made it to the championship game, so I've got everything I could do from that position. I feel playing guard will just open up the window even more."
There was never any doubt on the part of the coaching staff that Young could pull off the move effortlessly. On multiple occasions, Malzahn and Lashlee have touted Young's ability to play every spot on the line.
And the transition is made even easier, in Lashlee's opinion, since shifting from tackle to guard is far less difficult than the other way around.
"At guard you pull more and pass protections are different because you're in more of a confined space instead of on an island," he said. " ... You've got to adjust to it, but now you've got help on both sides in pass protection at guard in some cases."
The offensive line has undergone some course correcting of its own with Kozan no longer an option. Named to the Football Writers Association of America's all-freshman team last season, Kozan was expected to play an even bigger role this year. But the show must go on, as they say.
While losing Kozan isn't what anyone wanted to see, there's nothing they can do about it now — other than filling the void created by his absence.
"That's what the team is for," Young said. "When one guy falls, the next guy picks him up. That's the point of being together."