Thursday, January 15, 2009

Offensive line trouble

One of the positions Auburn coach Gene Chizik said his team needs to address most is offensive line.
The question is: Does he know how badly his team needs offensive linemen? Is it possible for someone who wasn't around the team last year to fully comprehend?

Last year's bunch was supposed to be one of the team's greatest strengths. Instead, it underachieved terribly.
Part of the problem was the offensive philosophy change. Auburn went from being a hard-nosed, run-first offense to a two-point stance, shotgun spread offense. The linemen did not adjust well because that's not what they were recruited to do.
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will likely require the line to run some of the same schemes that it employed last year. It's the players' jobs to execute better.

LT Lee Ziemba struggled with penalties and ineffectiveness during his sophomore slump. The move from right tackle to left tackle, I think, is overrated because Ziemba covered Brandon Cox' blindside last year, as he was for Chris Todd and Kodi Burns this year. Ziemba's struggles might emphasize how good former tight end Cole Bennett was as a blocker. It should also be noted that Ziemba played through injury all year and had surgery shortly after the season. Ziemba shouldn't shoulder all the blame for his mediocre season. It's not his fault he was still the best option despite clearly playing through pain. I still think Ziemba, when healthy, can be one of the elite tackles in the SEC.

Center Jason Bosley also played through pain for much of the season. RG Byron Isom suffered a concussion midway through the season and subsequently lost his job to Mike Berry.

LG Tyronne Green was heralded as an all-conference player before the year began but never lived up to the hype. Ryan Pugh, a natural center, played out of position most of the year, though he probably had the best season.

Here's the thing: Green and Bosley are gone now. Auburn doesn't exactly have players waiting in the wings (or they would have played last year).

Remember, the Tigers didn't have any true freshman scholarship linemen last year because Jermaine Johnson couldn't qualify academically.
Since Auburn has yet to hire an offensive line coach, it's impossible to get a true feel as to which players will emerge as starters. The player to watch, though, might be A.J. Greene, who spent the 2007 season and two-a-days in 2008 at defensive end -- where he received daily doses of tough love from DE coach Terry Price. Former OL coach Hugh Nall said last year that he liked Greene's progress, but still wanted him to add some weight.
If Greene doesn't emerge as a starter, Andrew McCain could be considered a leader for the position with Pugh moving inside to center, where he is more natural.
Berry and Isom seem to be frontrunners for the two guard positions, but there is no doubt that incoming freshmen could challenge for playing time immediately.
My far-too-early projection:
LT Ziemba
LG Isom
C Pugh
RG Berry
RT Greene

No comments: