Auburn, Ala.--Bigger and Better.
For Leon Hart, those are two key words for the sophomore offensive lineman during his first spring training as a member of the Auburn football team.
Hart is bigger than he was last fall, which should help him earn more playing time. With a move to a position with no returning starter, his chances of breaking into the starting lineup are certainly better in 2005.
The former prep All-American from Columbia, S.C., played in a backup role last fall as a true freshman tackle. However, with starting tackles Marcus McNeill and Troy Reddick, a pair of pro prospects, returning at the tackle spots, Hart is getting a look at center where the Tigers graduated starter Jeremy Ingle.
Steven Ross, who was the No. 2 center last year, is sidelined this spring after having knee surgery so the move of Hart to center could be much more than just an experiment.
Leon Hart snaps the football in Tuesday's practice.
Hart says he wasn’t expecting to be a center when he came to college, but he has an open mind about the move. “I had a feeling I could possibly be a guard because I didn’t think I was the prototypical height for a tackle, but I never thought I would be a center,” he says.
Hart is already bigger than last year’s starting center and says he feels good about the progress he has made in that area. “When I put the weight on during the season, I actually felt a little slower,” he notes. “Now that I have had plenty of time to get used to the weight and get stronger, I actually feel quicker than I was last year at around 280. I feel good with the 300 pounds.”
Hart has started practice as the number two center behind junior walk-on Joe Cope and ahead of true freshman Jason Bosley, who was a grayshirt last fall.
Offensive line coach Hugh Nall had given Hart some brief work at center last season so the position is not totally foreign to the lineman. “I have had a chance to snap before so today I was better off than if I had just been starting.” Hart says.
“I didn’t have that many problems today,” Hart adds. “I am still young at the position, I am still learning, but I felt good out there.”
Hart, who worked at both guard and tackle last season, is one of the team’s quickest linemen and a player with plenty of potential. Head coach Tommy Tuberville says that he is the kind of talented player who needs to be on the field.
“Back during the season, Coach Nall told me he was going to try me at center a little bit,” Hart says. “I am going to try to do anything I can to get on the field. I know if I had been at left tackle, I would have been behind Marcus so right now I am trying to battle for a starting position at center.
“The center is basically like the brains of the offensive line,” he adds. “He has to know the defenses and make all of the calls. I think the biggest thing for me is when I get to the line for it to all come naturally so I am not having to think as much. I want to be able to come to line, read the defense quickly and be natural.”
In addition to snapping the ball and reading the defense, the stance is new to Hart.
“The thing with center, you can’t really put as much weight forward on your hand so you have got to have real good balance,” he says. “The biggest thing for me is making sure you snap the ball and getting there to block the guy at full speed.
“Basically, it is all about repetition. The more you do it, the better you get at it. I have just got to take a lot of snaps in order to get perfect.”