McCain finds home at left tackle
By Ross Dellenger
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AUBURN — A budding 18-year-old, Andrew McCain walked onto the Auburn campus as a tight end in 2005.
The next two years were a blur, as he was shifted and shuffled around like a pawn in some infuriating game.
"It's been a jumble ever since I've been here," McCain said.
He was moved to defensive tackle during preseason practice of 2005. He played in five games during his freshman season and actually recorded a sack.
But little did he know, it would be his last.
McCain was informed sometime during that season that he would be redshirted for his sophomore year. Oh, and he was being moved again.
So, McCain sat out the entire 2006 season as he made the move back to offense as a lineman. He would protect the quarterback, not hunt for his head.
He emerged from this past spring practice as the starting right tackle.
But wait ... uh, oh.
Just a week before the start of this season, McCain was shifted again, moving to left tackle. Backup left tackle, that is. He entered the 2007 season behind the only returning starter on the offensive line and the lone senior: King Dunlap.
What a confidence booster.
"I've been all over the place," McCain said.
In two years, his expectations of playing time had gone from minimal, to mediocre, to maximum, back to minimal again.
But lo and behold, McCain got his chance Saturday, and you bet, he relished every moment.
When Dunlap injured an elbow in the first quarter of last week's game against Mississippi State, it was McCain who raced onto the field. No, not as a tight end or defensive tackle, or even a right tackle. He planted his hands into Pat Dye Field as Auburn's left tackle.
After all the uncertainty and chaos of the past two years, McCain finally had found a permanent home.
"I would feel comfortable anywhere on the field at this point," he said laughing. "It felt good to be out there."
McCain returns to the field Saturday when Auburn (1-2) takes on New Mexico State (2-1) in a must-win game for a team that's reeling after back-to-back home losses.
Among all of the negativity, though, the main concern heading into the season — the offensive line — has quite possibly been the strongest unit on Auburn's sluggish offense.
A 6-foot-6, 296-pound Birmingham native, McCain played well enough to garner the first start of his ambiguous Auburn career. With Dunlap still suffering from that injury, McCain will take his place in the starting lineup Saturday.
Offensive line coach Hugh Nall called McCain's play against Mississippi State "all right" and "OK." Coming from a non-complimentary guy like Nall, that's pretty good.
But come on, coach — this is a guy who has had to learn four different positions in the last two years. Nall refused to budge. "He's got to get better," he said in his deep, raspy voice.
While seeing his first playing time as an offensive lineman, McCain entered last week's loss to Mississippi State a series after quarterback Kodi Burns was put in. All the blocking assignments and plays McCain had learned during the past year were thrown out the window, tossed to the side.
Auburn's traditional offense was defunct with Burns in the game. Coaches had installed an entirely new game plan — a shotgun-option package — to capitalize on Burns' speed. But McCain, like many Auburn players, was just grasping this foreign scheme.
"With us running all that shotgun stuff, it's kind of a different ballgame coming off the ball," McCain said. "You got to get used to that."
Leading up to the Mississippi State game, McCain and other linemen had just a few days to learn these option plays from the shotgun. They were so busy studying the plays, they had little time to practice the most important part: grasping the correct techniques.
As McCain explains, blocking out of the shotgun is much different. But still, Burns ran for 87 yards on 22 carries.
"A lot of guys when they are lining up in that shotgun stance, it's usually for a pass play, so you are kind of used to getting back and you are up a little high," McCain said, "but you just got to get real low in your knees and hips and that way you can push off and have a good center of gravity."
This week that shouldn't be a problem, as linemen will hammer down the new blocking techniques, and McCain will be right there with them — finally at home, in the trenches.
"It feels natural (playing left tackle)," McCain said. "I enjoy it."
New Mexico State (2-1) at Auburn (1-2)
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Where: Pat Dye Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn.
Line: Auburn by 16.
TV/radio: The game is available on pay-per-view. Please call your cable company for details on how to get the broadcast. The radio broadcast can be heard on FM-106.1, AM-1230, FM-95.9 and FM-98.3.
Players to watch: This is simple. For Auburn, itís the quarterbacks: senior Brandon Cox and true freshman Kodi Burns. Cox will probably draw the start, but Burns — similar to last game — will come off the bench to provide a spark. Expect Burns to run more of Al Borgesí regular offense with a little option sprinkled in.
For New Mexico State, quarterback Chase Holbrook is the key to an Aggie offense that scores 32 points per game. Holbrook has thrown more touchdown passes (11) than Auburnís offense has scored (5) during the first three games of the season. Holbrook attempts about 50 passes per game.
Key matchup: Auburnís pass defense is ranked 30th in the nation, allowing a mere 171 passing yards an outing. New Mexico State is averaging nearly 400 yards through the air. The Tigers will use five and six defensive backs throughout the game to counter New Mexico Stateís five- and six-receiver formations. Decatur High grad Jerraud Powers and cornerbacks Pat Lee and Jonathan Wilhite will have an exhausting night.
Weather: Isolated thunderstorms with a high of 87 degrees and a low of 66. The chance of rain is 30 percent.
Last meeting: Auburn 55, New Mexico State 14; Nov. 6, 1993, in Auburn.
Prediction: Auburn 27, New Mexico State 20.
Ross Dellenger, DAILY sports writer
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