AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn says he’s never seen an offensive lineman like Austin Golson.
On most lines, a player handles one position. Some tackles have the ability to play on both sides, and some guards can play both as well. There are also combo linemen who can play both guard and tackle or guard and center.
But Auburn doesn’t have a typical offensive line or a typical line coach.
In the offseason, Herb Hand compared his approach to finding a starting lineup in basketball, where a team can have a first five, a sixth man, a seventh man and so on. Instead of immediately replacing a right tackle with his backup, Hand wants to mix and match in order to have the best possible combination at all times.
“Austin Golson has the ability,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “I think he’s played his fifth position last week in six games. It tells you a lot about him, his versatility. There’s very few players around the country, I feel like, could do that.”
Much like NBA champion Green, Golson isn’t the biggest star in his lineup. That honor would go to All-America candidate Braden Smith, a Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant of sorts up front.
But Golson is the “glue guy,” and he’s held the offensive line together on several occasions in the first half of the season.
The senior from Prattville, Ala., has started at three different positions in the first six games of 2017. Golson moved to right tackle from center to replace an injured Darius James in Week 3, bringing senior center Casey Dunn into the fold. When James returned to full health, he switched to left tackle to replace the underperforming Prince Tega Wanogho.
Golson moved to left guard last Saturday in a 44-23 win over Ole Miss after starter Mike Horton was injured. He’s also played right guard and blocking tight end in certain unbalanced line sets.
“I think it’s good that coach has some options that I am able to play all five at a decent level, anyway, and go out and be able to execute,” Golson said. “It helps when people get nicked up and bruised, especially in the SEC in the middle of the season. That’s going to happen.”
The 6-foot-5 Golson talks about his versatility in his usual nonchalant tone. But it’s been a huge and extremely rare advantage for Auburn.
“He’s a smart guy. He picks up on things very quickly,” Malzahn said. “We’ve never had a guy, I think, do three positions, much less five. That really tells you a lot about him.”
Golson chalks up his ability to play several positions at a high level to experience. In 2013, as a freshman at Ole Miss, he played in 12 games — mostly at right guard, but some at tackle, where he played in high school.
He sat out the 2014 season after his decision to transfer to Auburn, which was closer to home. When he became eligible again in 2015, the Tigers used him to replace former Rimington Award winner Reese Dismukes at center.
That experience at center was vital to Golson’s growth as an offensive lineman.
“At center, you’ve got to know what everybody’s doing on every play,” Golson said last month. “Therefore, if I move to another position, I’ll know what I’m doing because I’ve already had to learn all that stuff. Now, the techniques and stuff are a little different, and you’re dealing with different types of players … but it helps, definitely, knowing the plays.”
Auburn moved Golson back to his natural position at left tackle in 2016 before switching him to center after Xavier Dampeer went down with injury. That allowed the Tigers to utilize Hand’s lineup strategy by bringing in James at left tackle instead of plugging in a backup center.
“He’s played a lot of football in his college career,” James said last week. “He’s played a lot of spots and he’s done a lot of different things. I feel like he can be plugged in wherever coach needs him.”
This weekend, when No. 10 Auburn travels to LSU (3:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. CT on CBS), Golson will earn his 43rd career start. Where he’ll be for that start is up in the air.
If Horton can’t return from an ankle injury, Golson will stay at left guard — meaning he will have started an SEC game at all five positions on the offensive line.
But another new starting position and the added stakes of a road game in a hostile environment won’t affect Auburn’s glue guy.
“I kind of feel the same way about every game,” Golson said. “Just try to go out and be at my best, no matter what the situation is and who we’re playing. That doesn’t affect the way I prepare and train.”
The post Glue guy: Austin Golson’s rare versatility holds together Auburn offensive line appeared first on SEC Country.
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