Going into Gus Malzahn's first spring practice as Auburn head coach, there are major question marks at every position, and the offensive line is no exception. The Tigers feature an abundance of four- and five-star talent along the line, but it underachieved in 2012. Was that simply because of a lack of development, a chronic issue under the Gene Chizik regime? Or was some of that talent overrated?
The New Arrivals
|Will Adams||OT||RS FR||6'7||289|
|Shane Callahan||OT||RS FR||6'6||292|
|Delondre DeJarnett||OL||RS FR||6'2||290|
|Jordan Diamond||OT||RS FR||6'6||323|
|Alex Kozan||OG||RS FR||6'4||294|
|Robert Leff||OT||RS FR||6'6||289|
Like pretty much everything else related to Auburn football, the Tigers' offensive line wasn't great in 2012. Injuries and inexperience led to too much shuffling, which in turn led to play that left much to be desired. Auburn averaged 4.1 yards per carry in the run game, which ranked 11th in the SEC, and Tigers quarterbacks were sacked 37 times, third-most in the conference. Now, several of those sacks were due to Kiehl Frazier's reluctance to get rid of the football earlier in the season, but the line was at fault for its fair share.
In fact, a nearly perfect metaphor for Auburn's offensive line play in 2012 was John Sullen's performance at Auburn's pro day earlier this month. Sullen completed just three reps on the bench press, which is pathetic for almost anyone aiming for an NFL career, and downright embarrassing for an offensive lineman. Auburn's O-line was weak and wasn't physical enough last season, and the results weren't a surprise.
Almost everyone -- minus the graduated Sullen and transferred Christian Westerman -- is back, which should be a good thing. In the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes, Auburn did as well as any school in the country at recruiting O-lineman, and the roster is currently filled with top-end talent. Four-star players from those classes still on the roster, per 247Composite's ratings, include Shane Callahan, Jordan Diamond, Reese Dismukes, Patrick Miller, Greg Robinson and Avery Young. Plus, Shon Coleman was a four-star in 2010.
If there's one certainty about Auburn going forward, it's that barring an episode of public intoxication or some other boneheaded behavior, Dismukes has the starting center position locked down. He started every game in 2011, his freshman season, and 11 of 12 last season, with the one exception being the opener against Clemson (hooray public drunkenness!). Dismukes has been one of the Tigers' most consistent players on the field over the last two years, and as long as he's healthy and out of trouble, he should be the anchor on the line. Tunde Fariyike is second in line at center right now, and he represents a significant drop in raw talent and in-game experience. Although, Callahan could make a push for the second-string spot.
The remaining slots on the line aren't nearly as settled. It's pretty much accepted that Auburn will see some sort of combination and rotation of Coleman, Diamond, Alex Kozan, Miller, Robinson, Chad Slade and Young. Coleman, Miller, Robinson and Young will be likely competing for the tackle slots, while Robinson, who is once again healthy and would be moving from tackle, and Slade could be the early favorites to grab the starting guard spots. Kozan could eventually play his way into a starting role, but since he redshirted last season and doesn't quite have the size of his linemates, he should be in a second-string role right now. Because of his shoulder injury, Diamond sat out in 2012, too, but he has more natural ability, and at 6'6, 323 pounds, he has a big size advantage over Kozan (6'4, 294). If Robinson, who struggled at times last season, doesn't perform well enough at tackle, Diamond may slide back to the outside, and Auburn could shuffle at guard, maybe even swapping Robinson into that slot.
If the Tigers are forced to shuffle at guard, Devonte Danzey, who comes to Auburn via the JUCO route and will participate in spring camp, shouldn't be counted out. True freshman Deon Mix will bring some more skill to the roster in the fall, but he would have to make a quick transition from high school to college to garner major playing time. If any members of the Tigers' current team of guards aren't getting the job done, don't be surprised at all if one of the tackles or Fariyike, who played some guard last season, changes positions.
Basically, the success of Auburn's offensive line in 2013, like most other positions, comes down to whether or not Malzahn and line coach J.B. Grimes can develop the returning players on the field and S&C coach Ryan Russell can strengthen them in the weight room. They have the raw talent and experience, and there's really no excuse for this unit to be as bad this season as it was in 2011 and '12.
Projected Two-Deep Entering Spring
|Greg Robinson||Jordan Diamond||Reese Dismukes||Chad Slade||Avery Young|
|Shon Coleman||Alex Kozan||Tunde Fariyike||Devonte Danzey||Patrick Miller|