Second in an intense three-day series. See also: the RBs.
The Starters: LT Lee Ziemba (6-8, 308, Jr.), LG Byron Isom (6-3, 281, Jr.), C Ryan Pugh (6-4, 289, Jr.), RG Mike Berry (6-3, 311, Jr.), RT Andrew McCain (6-6, 299, Sr.).
The Backups: Jorell Bostrum (6-3, 362, Jr.), Jared Cooper (6-4, 295, So.), Vance Smith (6-2, 281, So.), John Sullen (6-6, 346, Fr.).
The Wildcard: Bart Eddins (6-4, 297, Jr.).
For my money, the most encouraging development of the spring–hell, maybe the entire offseason–occurs at the 53 second mark or so of this video:
Watching Lee Ziemba motor 15 yards downfield and not just block but obliterate his man–seriously, I think he stole that guy’s girlfriend on that play–was the biggest and brightest sign we’ve had all year that the tentativeness, mental fog, and just-plain-wimpiness of the Franklin era was well and truly behind us. It was one thing for Franklin to talk up how physical his line could be while asking them to drop 20 pounds each and operate in a pass-first scheme; it’s another for Malzahn to say it while ordering them to gain back the 20 pounds and then some, installing the run-first-run-second Wildcat, recruiting nothing but goliaths even by offensive line standards, and engineering a whole sequence of long-distance TD runs in the spring game.
If you want to see the practical difference in these two philosophies, all you really need is to watch Ziemba–last seen stumbling through an injury-plagued, penalty-prone lost season worse than any of us imagined–annihilating his defender on tha reverse. If he’s back to his old pancakin,’ brawlin’, All-SEC caliber self (and based on the above, would you doubt it?), the rest of the starting line should fall in, um, line.
Besides, it’s not like the rest of the guys are scrubs anyway. Ryan Pugh is back at his natural center position and already has two years of starting experience under his belt; Byron Isom and Mike Berry both showed some serious flashes both last year and in the srping game; and if you have to wonder a bit why it’s taken Andrew McCain five seasons at Auburn to gain any serious playing time, he did have to deal with a position chance and being a fifth-year senior does count for something. (Still, expect Auburn’s running patterns to be so heavily left-tilted we might start calling it the Southpaw Offense.) There are too many positives here, too many positives with this bunch since the regime change, to think Auburn won’t enjoy a major uptick in their offensive line play this season.
No, not big enough. Not even close.
the starters stay healthy. Because the backups … well, let’s just do a quick roll call:
- Sullen, the apparent first choice off the bench, is a bright but lightly regarded true freshman who was badly overweight when he arrived on campus just a few weeks ago
- Smith is a converted tight end
- Bostrum is a walk-on from Nampa, Idaho (albeit a JUCO walk-on with some credentials) I’m not sure anyone beside his coaches and family had ever heard of prior to fall camp
- Cooper, despite a two-year head start, appears to have been beaten out by Sullen and Bostrum in the pecking order already.
The one guy on the subs’ bench who wouldn’t cause a low-grade panic amongst Auburn fans upon entry might be Eddins, whose size, recruiting rep, experience, and most importantly Auburn pedigree suggests he could become a worthwhile contributor if he’s healthy and focused and all that “what if” jazz.
But given how little impact he’s made in his three years at Auburn to-date (and how little buzz he’s generated in camp), even Eddins is a far, far cry from an optimal injury solution–to say nothing of tossing a raw freshman like Sullen into the fray (clever and promising he may be). Any injury to any of the five starters–particularly the four non-McCain starters–would be a staggering blow, and a second would be flat catastrophic. There will be no in-between with this unit: they will be healthy and excellent, or they will be unhealthy and a disaster.
I’ll take “healthy and excellent” for the first six or seven weeks of the season, but it’s hard for me to expect the starting five to stay intact past the Oct. 24 trip to Baton Rouge. And after that? Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama, one hell of a fire in which to baptize whatever newcomers might have found their way into the lineup.
Still, if everybody stays in one piece for at least the first month-and-a-half, the line should show major, major improvement over the ’08 debacle and establish themselves as the team’s top unit entering 2010. However: If.
THE UNIT’S FINAL GRADE ON AN UNNECESSARILY PRECISE FIVE-STAR SCALE
4.1 if all five projected starters are healthy; 2.95 if any non-McCain starter is out; 1.7 if two or more starters are missing.
*The United Nations Unbridled Ass-Kicking Fund.