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April 28, 2012

Spring football recap: Offensive line

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Originally, these posts were supposed to come on a daily basis, but the blog was swamped with preps coverage the past two days, and unfortunately, the offensive line had to wait a little.

So far, the blog has already taken a look at three of Auburn’s position groups. Remember, the goal here — as established by my predecessor, Andy Bitter — is to take a look at how the Tigers’ roster shakes out at the end of the spring and how things might shake out when the freshmen arrive.

For a look at the other three position groups in the series, take a look at the following links:

As always, feel free to disagree with my take. At this point, with such a young roster, everything’s open to discussion.

Full disclaimer: Any depth chart projections here are only my best guess. Nothing more, nothing less.

For more on Auburn sports as the spring progresses, follow the blog on Twitter and Facebook.

PROJECTED STARTERS

  • LT: Greg Robinson, 6-5, 309, R-Fr.
  • LG: John Sullen, 6-5, 336, Sr.
  • C: Reese Dismukes, 6-3, 302, So.
  • RG: Christian Westerman, 6-3, 298, R-Fr.
  • RT: Chad Slade, 6-5, 314, So.
RESERVES
  • OT: Patrick Miller, 6-7, 273, Fr.
  • OG: Eric Mack, 6-3, 330, So.
  • C: Tunde Fariyike, 6-2, 302, So.
  • OG: Thomas O’Reilly, 6-3, 314, R-Fr.
  • OT: Shane Callahan, 6-6, 280, Fr.
  • OT: Shon Coleman, 6-6, 295, R-Fr.
  • OL: Avery Young, 6-5, 292, Fr.
  • OL: Jordan Diamond, 6-6, 289, Fr.
  • OL: Alex Kozan, 6-4, 295, Fr.
  • OL: Will Adams, 6-6, 280, Fr.
  • OL: Robert Leff, 6-6, 270, Fr.
OTHERS
  • OL: Colton Wingard, 6-2, 289, So.
WHAT ANDY WROTE LAST YEAR

“Auburn fans are going to realize once and for all how dominant last year’s line was. It’s a luxury you don’t realize until it’s gone. Well, it’s gone, and the Tigers are going to have some growing pains up front this year. Auburn has recruited well, which bodes well for the future, but offensive lines take time to jell, something that’s not going to happen overnight. Everything about Jeff Grimes’ track record suggests he’ll get the job done.”

OVERVIEW

Credit Andy, he hit the nail on the head. With a largely inexperienced line in 2011, Auburn had plenty of growing pains on the offensive line, especially against the SEC’s better defenses up front. Injuries didn’t help, either, as Auburn’s offensive line seemed to be in a constant state of flux due to injuries to A.J. Greene early and a season-ending injury to Jared Cooper in the middle of the season. Because of a lack of depth imposed by graduation, Auburn was awfully thin on the line toward the end of the year. In Cooper’s absence, Chad Slade played a lot in 2011. As for original starters, Reese Dismukes caught the attention of most onlookers as a freshman in the SEC, and John Sullen started every game, but it took a little longer than some observers expected for the highly-touted 2011 class to get on the field.

GOOD THINGS

On the blind side, Greg Robinson took a little more time than expected to acclimate to the college game and redshirted, but every indication from Auburn’s players and coaches is that Robinson has the athleticism and the potential to be a bedrock player on the line. In addition, Robinson’s running mate, Christian Westerman, made some good strides before getting injured, Dismukes has gotten leaner and stronger, and Sullen’s move to the left side to pair him with Robinson could give the line a road-grading side to run behind.  In addition, early enrollee Patrick Miller impressed with his ability to come on campus and mix it up right away, earning a starting role at one of the tackle spots in all three of Auburn’s big spring scrimmages.

BAD THINGS

Westerman’s injury kept him from really grabbing a spot by the end of spring practice. Slade, always a tweener, moved back and forth between tackle and guard throughout the spring. For the most part, Auburn’s offensive line was never physical enough for Grimes or offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler in scrimmages during the spring, and a young group is going to have to play physical football for the Tigers to run the football against the SEC’s power defenses.

ARRIVING SOON

Throughout the spring, Grimes made it clear that other than a couple of key starters — Robinson and Sullen on the left, Dismukes at center — he was not planning to make any big decisions in the spring, because he wanted to wait until the rest of the freshman class arrives in the summer. Out of an impressive class that brought in seven players, Avery Young and Jordan Diamond generated the most buzz from the recruiting experts. If one or both come in during the fall and make a play for a spot — highly unlikely, given the nature of the position — the chance to earn playing time is there.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

Has to be Robinson. At 6-5, 309 pounds, Robinson is enormous, but it’s his feet that give him a chance to be truly special on the outside at left tackle. Defensive end Dee Ford, one of the fastest players on Auburn’s defensive front, said that the thing that stands out about Robinson is the quickness of his feet. Robinson moves much faster and with much better quickness than most men his size. If he can translate that to the field when the games start, Robinson could be a special player for Auburn.

BATTLE TO WATCH

Both spots on the right side of the line appear to be up for grabs, but the battle at right tackle among some combination of Slade, Miller and the rest of the incoming freshman class may be the one to watch. Options with some experience or time on campus appear to be plentiful at right guard, but the key is whether or not Miller, who had a very impressive spring but needs to put on a lot of weight during the summer, or somebody else can win the job over Slade. In that scenario, Slade would likely become a part of the race at right guard, and even if Robinson’s holding down the blind side, somebody has to protect the quarterback’s line of sight.

THEY SAID IT

“He’s a kid that really, really tries hard. It means a lot to him. He’s got a great amount of desire and passion for the game. I really believe he’s going to be a really good player for us. I’m just not sure when, yet.” — Jeff Grimes on Patrick Miller.

NUMBERS GAME

32 — Sacks allowed by Auburn in 2011.

THE END OF THE DAY

No matter what Grimes ends up doing on the offensive line, Auburn’s going to be very, very young up front this year. Only Sullen will be an upperclassman, but the Tigers do have players with starting experience returning in Dismukes and Slade. What could give Grimes a chance to get Auburn’s offensive line back to a big-time unit is the athletic ability of some of Auburn’s young players. During bowl practices last year, A.J. Greene said Greg Robinson possessed much more athleticism than he himself, and Patrick Miller’s length at 6-7 gives him a chance to keep his athleticism even as he adds weight. What makes projecting a final starting lineup extremely difficult is that Grimes is a pretty straight shooter in interviews, and he made it clear during the spring that he wasn’t going to come up with any kind of depth chart until his full complement of players arrives. From there, it’s up to him to gel Auburn’s line together and get things going, although after a painfully uneven season in 2011, the Tigers really can only improve.

5 Comments

  1. 32 sacks allowed in 2012?
    Is that a prediction?

    Comment by easyedwin — April 29, 2012 @ 12:04 am

  2. …..Miller may well hold onto that right tackle spot, crazy as that sounds. He’s got really quick feet. Could get just NUKED by some of the bigger guys in the SEC, but he’s a pretty aggressive and determined man!

    …..I’ve always HATED the idea of sitting in the end zone, but I did this past A-Day, due to the wishes of my companions that day. I’m glad I did! The view of line battles is great! It won’t be the end of the world if Miller starts next fall. We went out in 2002 with a true freshman (Marcus McNeil) starting from the get-go, and averaged over 29 points per game. McNeil was a 4-year starter, is a star in the NFL, and Auburn won 39 games during his tenure as a starting Auburn tackle!

    Comment by Acid Reign — April 29, 2012 @ 3:26 am

  3. Going to be a huge test the first two games. Thankfully Clemson lost a lot on the DL and MSU doesn’t recruit that great.

    Comment by mabwriter — April 29, 2012 @ 6:04 am

  4. My bad, Edwin. Changed now.

    Comment by JErickson — April 30, 2012 @ 12:52 am

  5. The left side along with Prosche and a deep stable of running backs is going to be fun to watch this season. The question is whether or not the guards will be a able to pull well. If they can then this could be a very difficult team to stop on the ground. If AU does indeed go with Miller on at RT that could give CSL some very interesting options for the screen game, especially on the right side of the line. Just curious, did anyone notice how well the guards pulled at the A-Day game? I didn’t get to watch so any observations would be appreciated.

    Comment by War_Eagle_2010 — April 30, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

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