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Saturday, August 2, 2014
Auburn navigating bumpy start to camp

By Chris Low

The target was already on Auburn entering this season after it rose from the ashes a year ago to win the SEC championship and come within an eyelash of winning the national title.

Now the Tigers have a few more obstacles to overcome.

Coach Gus Malzahn announced Friday to open practice that quarterback Nick Marshall and cornerback Jonathon Mincy would not start the opener against Arkansas after both encountered marijuana-related legal trouble this offseason. Both will play in the game, and it was a given that they were going to face some type of punishment.

The bigger blow Friday came with the news that starting left guard Alex Kozan, a preseason All-SEC selection, would miss the entire season after suffering a back injury while lifting weights this summer.

The Tigers have some depth in their offensive line, and the plan is to move Chad Slade from right guard to left guard and Avery Young into the starting lineup at right guard. Young started the last nine games a year ago at right tackle after stepping in for Patrick Miller.

So, obviously, there's no reason to panic at this point, but another injury in the offensive line would be real cause for alarm.

The last place any team wants to be losing starters, particularly all-conference performers, is the line of scrimmage. And that's a pair Auburn has lost now, including defensive end Carl Lawson before the start of preseason camp. Lawson underwent ACL surgery and is expected to miss most, if not all, of the season.

One of the keys to winning a championship is avoiding injuries. Equally important is having enough depth to overcome those injuries.

It's never ideal to have off-the-field issues, either, although Auburn has enough veteran leaders on this team to remain focused and not get sidetracked. And you know this offense is going to be explosive.

Still, the landscape has changed. The Tigers won't sneak up on anybody this season, and the schedule is more treacherous than it was a year ago. The Western Division will be as rugged as it's ever been.

The ball bounced just right a couple of different times last season for Auburn, and that's not to diminish what a special season it was on the Plains.

But with preseason camp only 1 day old, there are warning signs that Year No. 2 under Malzahn could get tricky.