Despite the amount of change to the way offense is played over the years, a lot has remained the same.
Whether a team is in a pro-style offense or in an up-tempo, no-huddle style of offense like Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn runs, it will not be successful if it cannot win the battle up front by opening running lanes and protecting the QB.
Those who have followed Auburn over recent years have seen this first-hand. In 2010, Auburn had a veteran offensive line that had a combined 108 starts coming into the 2010 season between Lee Ziemba, Ryan Pugh, Mike Berry, Byron Isom and A.J. Greene. Brandon Moseley took over for Greene at RT after he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 3 against Clemson.
That offensive line was dominant throughout the season (specifically after Week 3 against Clemson). The group helped pave the way for the No. 5 rushing attack in the country and only allowed an average of 5.29 tackles for loss per game.
All of that experience on the offensive line departed in 2011. Mosley was the only returning starter. Reese Dismukes, John Sullen, Jared Cooper and Chad Slade were the newcomers. Among other things, the inexperience of the offensive line was a major reason there was significant drop-off in offensive production.
The 2012 team saw struggles on the offensive line much like the 2011 team did. While many of the faces were the same from previous year, the unit did not give any of Auburn's three QBs much protection and were consistently beat up front, particularly against SEC competition.
Auburn brought up the rear in rushing against its conferences foes, averaging only 86.75 yards per game in SEC play. Likewise, The Auburn offensive line allowed an SEC-worst 71 tackles for loss in its eight SEC games. An average of 8.88 tackles for loss allowed per game.
New offensive line coach J.B. Grimes (no relation to former OL coach Jeff Grimes) has his work cut out for him.
In 2013, excuses of inexperience can no longer be deemed accurate. Auburn returns four of the five starters on the offensive line that took the field in its last game against Alabama. Only LG John Sullen was lost due to graduation.
There will certainly be some shuffling and attrition (OT Christian Westerman has already transferred to Arizona State) that occurs between now and then, but Auburn will have a much more experienced group on offensive line than it did in 2012. In 2012, Auburn started the year against Clemson with only 24 career starts among the offensive line.
More experience will bode well for the Tigers in 2013.
I took my first stab at projecting the starting offensive lineup for 2013 a few weeks ago. If things pan out the way I predict (does that ever happen?) the Tigers offensive line on August 31 against Washington State will look like this:
Left Tackle: Avery Young—Sophomore, 6'6" 295 pounds
Left Guard: Greg Robinson—Sophomore, 6'5" 311 pounds
Center: Reese Dismukes—Junior, 6'3" 293 pounds
Right Guard: Chad Slade—Junior, 6'5" 301 pounds
Right Tackle: Patrick Miller—Sophomore, 6'7" 273 pounds
In 2012, Robinson was a left tackle. Miller and Young combined to start every game at RT. Young would be a good candidate to switch sides and go over to LT with his ability to block the speed-rushers at DE that so many SEC defenses have.
If Robinson stays at LT and does not slide over one spot to the LG position, expect JUCO-signee Devonte Danzey to get the starting nod there.
If this projection proves to be true, Auburn will have a total of 67 career starts among its starting offensive line, 45 between Dismukes and Slade alone. Both Dismukes and Slade played in Malzahn's offense in his last season as offensive coordinator in 2011.
They should have some familiarity with what Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee are trying to do. "I think there will be a lot of carryover with some of the older guys," Grimes said. "They won't be familiar with it at all, but some of the older guys will be familiar. They'll understand and have at least a concept of what Coach Malzahn's wanting to do." (via Joel Erickson, al.com)
Grimes—who has apparently always been a big fan of Auburn's uniforms—plans to bring physical play along the offensive line back to the Plains in 2013.
"It's a lot of power, gap scheme, if you will, and a lot of inside zone, and some counter action, is what he's done in the run game. It's very physical," Grimes said. "You need to keep a hard edge in the running game." (via Erickson)
The success of a football teams begins up front and if Auburn wants to get back to where it has been historically, it must regain the physical nature on the offensive line that it has lacked the last two years.
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