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Braden Smith announces return, gives Auburn early boost for 2017

Auburn guard Braden Smith will return for his senior season.
Auburn guard Braden Smith will return for his senior season. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

One of the key cogs in Auburn’s running game is returning next season.

Offensive lineman Braden Smith announced plans to return for his senior season to the program’s official website.

"I feel like we have a chance to do something special next year. It's exciting," Smith told AuburnTigers.com. "We have a bunch of people coming back. I feel like it's going to be a really strong line next year."

The team’s starting right guard helped Auburn average 271 yards per game on the ground this season, sixth best in the country. According to Pro Football Focus, the offense had its most success this season running behind the right side of the line.

Smith, who has made 26 consecutive starts, gives Auburn three returning starters for next season alongside center Austin Golson and left tackle Darius James. The Tigers need to replace graduating seniors Alex Kozan and Robert Leff, but Kozan sees a bright future for the group.

“I think great,” Kozan said. “Robert is doing a great job working with the tackles for next year. I saw him after practice today. He was working with Prince Sammons and Prince Tega, trying to get those guys ready. Me and Braden have done a great job, I'm sure Braden will be back I guess, getting Mike (Horton) and Marquel ready. If you guys have watched any of the tape when the blue team has been playing, Marquel's been bringing the funk on some people on his pulls. Both those guys, I think, are ready to play. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do next year.”

The second team All-SEC guard played the entire second half against Oklahoma with a broken left hand.

Smith was sent for x-rays as the media was let into the team’s locker room after the game, his hand wrapped in thick bandages.

According to Auburn Rivals publisher Jay G. Tate, Smith will miss six to eight weeks with the injury. The timeline means he should be back for the start of spring practice in early March.

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra