Auburn offensive lineman Alex Kozan still feels there’s work left getting back to where he was walking off the field following the 2014 National Championship game.
Kozan started all 14 games at left guard during the Tigers’ run the title game then injured his back in the offseason lifting weights, and had season-ending surgery during last season’s training camp.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound junior feels 100 percent physically, but knows that isn’t the last hurdle to climb after 14 months away from the field.
“Every day I’m getting a little better at something, and I’m still kind of figuring out how good I can be,” Kozan said. “Every day I’m becoming a better player. In the Florida State game, I had all my timing down, all my muscle memory was down and I could just — wasn’t even thinking, just playing the game. When you miss a year of football, you miss a lot of things, so for me I’ve been trying to jump start all that and catch up and get back to where I was.”
Kozan is one of the players in the mix to start week one against Louisville at his former position. He continues to split reps, “he goes one period, I go the other period,” with teammate Devonte Danzey.
On Tuesday, coach Gus Malzahn said it’s possible both players could play in the Tigers’ opener, but Kozan hasn’t discussed that scenario with the coaching staff.
Auburn’s plan is to reveal a depth chart on Tuesday.
A start against Louisville will pit Kozan against a defensive line that he said has “serious talent” up front including one of the premiere interior lineman in college football Sheldon Rankins.
“He’s got a really high motor,” Kozan said. “He looks really similar, to me, on tape as some of those d-tackles from Florida State that we went up against in my last game. Definitely going to have to bring it against him every play. He’s got a nonstop motor and he’s a good player.”
The challenge facing the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense goes beyond slowing down Rankins. Kozan said it was clear from watching film they aren’t lacking talented pass-rushers.
"They got two pretty solid defensive tackles that we’re going to have to get ready for and two pretty good ends, then that TCU transfer (Devonte) Fields, we know he’s a pretty good pass-rusher so we’re getting ready for him,” Kozan said.
Asked if he was worried about reinjuring his back seeing live-game action, Kozan didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“I’ve never really felt anything in my back since I’ve come back from my injury,” Kozan said. “I haven’t even thought about it, to be honest, but I guess we’ll see. I’ve strained it as much as I can. We’ve gone no-huddle, run eight plays in a row, go back to the sideline and run another eight in a row. If that doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will.”