Auburn coach Gus Malzahn described the reps Austin Golson is taking at tackle as a contingency plan in case of injuries.
The expectation coming into the spring was Golson would be back as the team’s starting center. The former Ole Miss offensive lineman started 10 games at the position for the Tigers last season, but Malzahn may have been downplaying the importance of Golson’s reps at tackle.
Auburn made its assistant coaches available to the media Tuesday and offensive line coach Herb Hand made it clear the staff views Golson as a candidate for the starting spot left tackle spot.
“He's (Darius James) in a battle right now with Austin Golson,” Hand said. “Austin has done some really good things particularly in this last week at left tackle. Every rep he takes there it makes him more comfortable.”
Darius James spent the early part of spring camp playing right tackle, but is now rotating between the right and left sides of the line. He sat out Tuesday’s practice with an undisclosed injury.
“Darius has an incredible amount of talent,” Hand said of the 6-foot-4, 332-pound Texas transfer. “He's an athletic guy, he can move his feet. He's got some natural ability that we've just got to fine tune.”
Hand would likely peg Xavier Dampeer as the starting center if Golson wins the starting left tackle job.
“Xavier Dampeer is playing at a pretty good level at center right now too,” Hand said. “He's another guy that I've been very, very pleased with.”
Golson didn’t specifically address switching positions when he was made available to the media earlier this month, but he did mention versatility as one of his spring goals.
“I’ve got some experience; this will be my third year playing in the SEC,” Golson said. “I feel really good with where I’m at. I’ve got to keep getting better. I’ve got to keep being versatile and keep pushing to improve each and every day.”
As a true freshman with Ole Miss, Golson played in all 12 games at right guard. The plan for him was to shift to right tackle during the spring for the Rebels, but he ended up transferring to Auburn and starting at center.
Coach Gus Malzahn noticed a much more confident Golson this spring at the center of Auburn’s offensive line.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Malzahn said. “He’s able to work on the little things like the pad level, on the second step, hand placement and those things that veteran guys do. You can tell he’s more confident.”
Hand likened figuring out the starting offensive line to a math problem. He plans on using the spring to figure out the equation’s solution by continuing to rep offensive lineman at multiple positions to find the best combination of five guys.
“What's going to be the challenge now is what's going to be the best mix of guys?” Hand said. “Who are the best five guys to put on the field to give us the greatest amount of success. That's what spring ball is for, to figure that stuff out, figure out your combination so once we do get into the summer, those guys can really start working together and getting used to each other.”