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March 21, 2012Jeff Grimes will finally have the number of players he would like to have along the offensive line. Now, Auburn's offensive line coach just needs experience.
Grimes enters spring practice on Friday with a two-deep at every position, and he will add to that in the summer when five more 2012 signees report to campus.
"I'm excited about the offensive line for several reasons, but what I'm most excited about is that we are finally getting to the point where we have the numbers that we need," said Grimes. "We won't be there this spring, but by next fall we will be in a position where we will have enough bodies on the team for the first time since I've been here.
"We will have depth, some real competition. The challenge will be that we are still incredibly young."
Of the 10 offensive linemen currently expected to go through spring practice, nine are freshmen or sophomores. John Sullen, a senior, is the lone upperclassmen.
Auburn's five summer additions will be Avery Young, Alex Kozan, Jordan Diamond, Will Adams and Robert Leff. The group, along with early enrollees Patrick Miller and Shane Callahan, were ranked the No. 2 offensive line class in the country, according to Rivals.com.
"The 2012 class was huge," said Grimes. "It was amazing because we started off saying that the year wasn't a good year in the South for offensive linemen, that we were going to have to stretch a little bit and go all over the country.
"For a while, I didn't know if it would be worth it because guys started dropping, and we get right up to Signing Day morning and we are still actively recruiting three guys that we have no idea if we are going to get or not."
Fortunately for Auburn and Grimes, the Tigers signed all three.
"We get Avery Young on Signing Day. We get Jordan Diamond two days later, and then Alex Kozan almost a month later," Grimes said. "I would never have believed you if you told me we would go 3 for 3 on those guys, but we had room and were able to do it."
Auburn's seven offensive line signees were the most the Tigers signed since the 2007 class that was ranked No. 1 in the nation and included future starters Lee Ziemba, Ryan Pugh and Mike Berry.
"The first thing you have to do to build your offensive line is have enough bodies," said Grimes. "At other positions, you may not have to have quite as many bodies, but at offensive line you have to because it takes more time to develop. You need some guys that are coming up in the program as these young guys show up.
"It won't pay off for us as much this year, but next year it will. This year we will still be in a position where some of these young guys are going to have to play, compete to play and be on the two-deep and travel squad. That will pay off in time."
At the left tackle position this spring, Grimes will have two talented freshmen competing for the starting job in redshirt freshman Greg Robinson and Miller. At left guard, sophomore Eric Mack and redshirt freshman Christian Westerman will make up the two-deep. Sophomore Reese Dismukes and sophomore Tunde Fariyike will man the center position. On the right side of the line, Sullen and redshirt freshman Thomas O'Reilly will be the guards while sophomore Chad Slade and Callahan will be at tackle.
"As a starting point, I will put the guys with the most experience in the first unit so it gives the guys in the second unit more of a chance to learn from the guys who do have experience," said Grimes. "As spring goes on, the guys that prove they are ready to compete will get more looks with the first unit."
Not only does Grimes' unit have to overcome a lack of experience, but learning a new offense under new coordinator Scot Loeffler. Grimes thinks the group is looking forward to the Tigers' new offensive scheme.
"I think we are all excited about the new offense and the direction we are headed. That has energized everybody, coaches and player alike," Grimes said. "It brings a new life and a new sense of urgency to what we are doing. I think a lot of the things we are going to do will really benefit us as linemen."
Although Auburn will undergo a change in philosophy on offense under Loeffler, the blocking schemes won't change much.
"A lot of the schemes we run won't be all that different at times, but they will look different just in terms of being under center and having all of our linemen down in three-point stances," said Grimes. "I think any offensive linemen is excited about the prospect of putting his hand in the grass, getting under center and running the ball right at the defense.
"I think it brings a little bit of a different mentality when you do get in bigger sets, bigger formations like the I-formation with a fullback in the game."
One benefit Grimes will have is a returning starter at center, albeit a sophomore. Dismukes started all 13 games in 2011 and was named to the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America Team.
And he's only getting better.
"Reese has probably improved as much as anyone since the season ended, just looking at his body, how he moves, his conditioning level. He's really come a long way," said Grimes. "A college lineman will typically make a huge jump between his first year starting and second year starting.
"And when you have to start as a true freshman in the SEC at center, it's a tough job. He got an introduction to what SEC football is all about."
Two redshirt freshmen that Grimes believes has the potential to join Dismukes along the offensive line in 2012 are Robinson and Westerman.
"Robinson has a ton of potential. He is not a guy that I'm excited about only because of his physical potential, but also because he is a great kid, a hard worker and it means a lot to him," said Grimes. "He's eager to learn. He's willing to listen and he's the right kind of kid. Although he doesn't have any game experience, I think he learned a lot last year from just being around some older guys.
"Christian is a really tough kid with a tremendous work ethic. He is willing to do anything you ask of him. The challenge for him and Greg will be how quickly they learn to play the game at this level, learning the assignments, the calls, how to step, hat placement, where to put their hands, how to pass set a one-technique versus a three-technique, all the things it takes to be successful as an offensive linemen at this level.
"Those are the real challenges for them. It's not going to be physical ability or toughness. It's going to be knowing who to block and how to do it."
Grimes will find out soon enough. The Tigers will start spring practice early Friday morning. He will have 10 scholarship offensive linemen, and possibly 11 should Shon Coleman be cleared to play. But the group can't get complacent. There are still five others yet to show up that will be working to find a spot in the two-deep in the fall.
"I told all of the signees to come in like you are trying to compete to win a starting job, and one of them may just like Dismukes did last year," said Grimes. "They may not, but they may be somebody in the two-deep, somebody that is pressed to play mid-year, or they may end up like Robinson and Westerman did last year where they are on the ready list, but not called upon because we didn't have to get to them."
Auburn's Spring OL Depth Chart
Greg Robinson, Redshirt Freshman
Patrick Miller, Freshman
Eric Mack, Sophomore
Christian Westerman, Redshirt Freshman
Reese Dismukes, Sophomore
Tunde Fariyike, Sophomore
John Sullen, Senior
Thomas O'Reilly, Redshirt Freshman
Chad Slade, Sophomore
Shane Callahan, Freshman
Auburn's 2012 OL Signees (not yet reported)
OT Avery Young, Freshman
OG Alex Kozan, Freshman
OT Jordan Diamond, Freshman
OT Will Adams, Freshman
OT Robert Leff, Freshman