BY RYAN BLACK | email@example.com
AUBURN, Ala. — “Experienced” is a label rarely attached to a sophomore.
But that’s what people already consider Greg Robinson as he enters his second year as a starter on Auburn’s offensive line. And yes, for the sake of transparency, he is technically a redshirt sophomore after sitting out his freshman season in 2011.
Still, it’s an odd feeling to be looked at as one of the “old guys” on the line.
“Since I’ve been in it for two years, it just feels like everything has slowed down,” he said. “I’m hoping it does the same for (the freshmen).”
After starting 11 games at left tackle in 2012, some might think Robinson considered the season a successful one from an individual standpoint. Instead, he could only focus on the things he did wrong. His hand placement wasn’t where it needed to be, which made “it a lot harder in situations where things shouldn’t have been hard.”
To get better with his hands, Robinson knew he had to improve his upper body.
“I wasn’t really trying to gain any weight. I gained weight, but it was pretty much muscle,” said Robinson, who admitted he had gained six pounds since the end of the spring and weighed in at 320 pounds Friday morning. “The offseason went pretty well. I went hard.”
His hope is that with his upper body better than ever, it will bail him out in situations when his hand techniques are off and his footwork isn’t perfect. Not that anyone is expecting perfection every play. Robinson can rest a little easier knowing that he’s a member of one of the most battle-tested units on the team.
Including Robinson’s 11 starts, the Tigers’ offensive line boasts a wealth of experience in center Reese Dismukes (23 starts), right guard Chad Slade (22 starts) and right tackles Patrick Miller (nine starts) and Avery Young (three starts). Perhaps even more impressive than the 68 combined starts is that there’s not a senior among them.
With newcomers like Deon Mix joining the team this fall and the left guard position up for grabs, there are still question marks — albeit quite small — about the line.
Those pale in comparison to the luxury of bringing four starters back, however.
“We all can listen to each other and push each other,” Robinson said. “It helps in a great way that we got closer so we all on the same page.”
It’s a bond Dismukes spoke of earlier in the preseason that gave him the belief Auburn’s line could be one of the best in the country.
“I think sky’s the limit for us,” he said. “We’ve been playing together. You look at the guy to your left, and he knows what that look means when he’s down in Baton Rouge. It’s obviously going to help not being the first time.”
Gus Malzahn avoided making any bold proclamations about the line after the team’s first practice of the fall on Friday. It’s simply too soon to tell how good it can be without putting on pads first.
But the head coach does have a philosophy regarding the unit should be developed.
“I think we’ve got a young, athletic group,” he said. “I’m real big on identifying the best five, putting them in a position and keeping them there so they get used to working together.”
That’s why Robinson is pleased to be working “exclusively” at left tackle. There are younger players behind him (Robert Leff and Will Adams) duking it out for the chance to work with the second-team offense. They might get their chance to start at some point in the future.
It won’t be until Robinson decides to move on, though.
He’s too comfortable at left tackle to let anyone else take the job. With a year of experience under his belt, he’s now able to “move full speed” every time the ball is snapped. Robinson has also embraced the responsibility that comes with his position.
Few things are more important than protecting the quarterback’s blindside, after all.
“It’s a big role and it’s a small amount of space for error,” he said. “You got to be focused and go 100 percent each play.”