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Countdown to kickoff: Auburn’s contingency plans on the offensive line

Auburn offensive lineman Mike Horton, No. 64, plays for the white team in the program's annual spring game.
Auburn offensive lineman Mike Horton, No. 64, plays for the white team in the program's annual spring game. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Editor’s note: T-minus 16 days and counting until Auburn opens the season against Clemson on Sept. 3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Check back every morning as we break down the roster, profile key players and look at unanswered questions coming out of training camp.

Auburn gave the majority of first team reps on the offensive line to the same group from spring practice through fall camp.

The tentative plan is to start Robert Leff (RT), Braden Smith (RG), Xavier Dampeer (C), Alex Kozan (LG) and Austin Golson (LT) on Sept. 3 against Clemson.

“If things go the way they are, probably,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Thursday night.

With Auburn working on “contingency plans” in case one of the presumed starting linemen goes down with an injury, who is the next man up?

Lashlee and offensive line coach Herb Hand identified redshirt freshman Mike Horton as a possible candidate.

“Mike Horton has really come on for us,” Hand said. “He’s a guy that I think will help us and needs to help. Even though he didn’t play last year, he traveled, he was kind of in the two-deep. I think that helps sometimes even if he didn’t play and he’s really done some nice things so far.”

The 6-foot-4, 331-pounder has drawn rave reviews from coaches and teammates going back to last season.

“Throughout the whole year he's been getting better on everything like his pass sets, where his hands need to be,” Braden Smith said back in December. “He's kept with it the whole time. He's never got down about anything, which I'm really proud of him about. He's been doing really good.”

Horton spent fall camp repping at right guard, but also has experience at tackle.

“He repped as a backup tackle last year, but he's a pretty athletic kid, and a really smart kid,” Lashlee said.

If one of Auburn’s tackles does go down with an injury the plan could be to keep Horton at guard and rotate one of the veteran linemen over.

“Robert (Leff) is a guy who has played exclusively right tackle lately, but has a ton of reps on the left side,” Lashlee said. “He's a smart guy. He's a senior. He's a guy who can know both. Braden is a guy who could easily play right tackle. We would probably take the older guys.”

Stat of the day

Coach Gus Malzahn offenses have only averaged less than five yards a carry three times in 10 years.

Auburn’s production in the run game last season (4.35 yards per carry) was the second lowest of Malzahn’s career.

Tulsa averaged 4.3 yards per carry with Malzahn as offensive coordinator in 2007, but the Golden Hurricanes threw the ball more than 300 times that year with quarterback Paul Smith putting up 5,000-plus yards.

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