Auburn Football: Tigers' Offensive Line Will Be Most Improved Unit in 2013

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Auburn Football: Tigers' Offensive Line Will Be Most Improved Unit in 2013
Butch Dill/Getty Images

It's hard to find an area or positional group that Auburn performed well in while stumbling through a 2012 campaign that saw the Tigers go winless in the SEC and have only three wins overall. 

Let's see if we can find one.

Quarterbacks? Nope. This doesn't require an explanation. 

How about the defensive backfield? That group improved from 2011, but allowing an average of 222 passing yards a game doesn't strike fear into the eyes of an opponent. 

In terms of national rankings, Auburn's highest ranking came in the area of punting. The Tigers and punter Steven Clark were ranked No. 31 nationally in net punting. Auburn being forced to punt a lot likely had something to do with that. 

Auburn's second-highest ranking came in the area of kickoff returns, where it was ranked No. 48. Again, Auburn was returning kickoffs a lot after an opponent's TD. 

Now, it's 2013 and we are just a couple months away from spring practice. The Tigers have turned the page with an entirely new coaching staff led by new head coach Gus Malzahn.

Preparation for the 2013 season has already begun with players going through winter workouts. According to DB Robenson Therezie, those workouts aren't a walk in the park. 

Obviously, there are a lot of candidates for the positional group that can improve the most for Auburn in 2013. 

But my money is on the offensive line being the most improved positional group next season. As I mentioned in my preview of the 2013 offensive line, last year's group was laden with multiple underclassman starters and had a tough time opening running lanes and protecting the QB against SEC competition.

Auburn rushed for an SEC-worst, 86.75 yards per game average in 2012 against SEC foes. It also allowed 4.00 sacks per game in conference play. 

This young group obviously took its lumps in 2012, but it will pay off in 2013. Four of the five starters it had against Alabama in last year's Iron Bowl will return. 

In the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes, Auburn signed 11 offensive linemen. With the exception of three, all were ranked 4-star or higher (by Rivals) coming out of the high school ranks.

Nine of the 11 signees remain. Christian Westerman and Thomas O'Reilly transferred to Arizona State and Georgia Tech, respectively. 

Those highly-touted offensive line classes of the last two years have already played a big role for Auburn. Center Reese Dismukes will be in his third year as a starter next fall. Tackles Patrick Miller and Avery Young combined to start every game at RT last fall. Left tackle Greg Robinson started 11 games in 2012. 

After being pushed around last season, this group will be the ones doing the pushing in 2013 in Malzahn's and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee's high-octane offensive attack. 

Both Dismukes and RG Chad Slade were recruited for and started in Malzahn's offense in 2011. Robinson was also recruited for Malzahn's offense, although he redshirted in the 2011 season. Most likely, the things that they will be asked to do on the offensive line is something they have done before. 

Butch Dill/Getty Images

Former offensive line coach Jeff Grimes (who may wind up as OL coach at Virginia Tech with former OC Scot Loeffler) did some good things with the offensive line in 2009 and 2010. Following the departure of four starters after the BCS National Championship season in 2010, the offensive line did not develop as hoped.

Maybe a new face will do the trick.

Photo credit: Todd Van Emst

New offensive line coach J.B. Grimes brings in an impressive resume of coaching offensive lines. He followed Malzahn to Auburn from Arkansas State. Last year, his OL with the Red Wolves had the nation's No. 23 rushing attack. It also ranked No. 18 in fewest sacks allowed. 

Usually, a good barometer of how well a team will do in the upcoming season is to look at the experience on the offensive line. Between Dismukes and Slade alone, Auburn will have 45 career starts on the offensive line.

If the projected starting lineup of Patrick Miller, Avery Young, Slade, Dismukes and Robinson proves to be true, Auburn will have a combined 67 starts among its offensive line. That is not a huge number, but when you compare it to the 24 career starts Auburn had on its offensive line to begin the season last year, it is a big difference. 

Football games are won on both the offensive and defensive lines. If Auburn's OL can reach the level of improvement that it is capable of in 2013, the Auburn offense will do its part to win its share of ballgames. 

Because of the experience returning, the familiarity with the offense, the quality depth, the talent level and coaching acumen, it's easy to see why Auburn's offensive line will be the most improved positional group in 2013.

What say you, Auburn fans? Which group do you think will be the most improved in 2013. Let us know by dropping a comment below. 

 

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