2011 Auburn Football: Offensive Line Preview

In the second part of our preview series we take a look at Auburn's offensive line in 2011.

Auburn, Ala.—With all the talk about how the Auburn Tigers are going to replace Cam Newton on offense and Nick Fairley on defense heading into the 2011 season, perhaps the toughest coaching job belongs to Jeff Grimes on the offensive line. Losing four veteran starters and returning just 15 games of starting experience in the entire offensive line group, Grimes said while it's going to be a challenge it's one he's definitely looking forward to.

"Obviously it's a different situation than we've been in since we've been here," Grimes said. "That presents some challenges, but I'm also excited about that. I think any coach or any player is invigorated by a new challenge. I'm looking forward to coaching this bunch of kids. For the most part since I've been here we really haven't had much competition. In my two years we knew mostly who was going to be playing and what spots. Now we're in a position where we don't necessarily know who's going to be starting and what spots they're going to play.

"There are a lot of things that are unsettled, but I don't think that's a bad thing. I'm a believer in the fact that competition makes everyone better. The real question will be who steps up and who comes on and how long will that be before we know that. I'm content to just let it play itself out. I'm not in a hurry to force the issue other than just putting them in positions to see who we can count on this year."

Without the veterans it made for an interesting spring as returning right tackle Brandon Mosley briefly worked on the left side before making the right side his permanent home. On the left side fellow senior A.J. Greene worked at tackle despite not being 100 percent after suffering a broken ankle against Clemson last season.

A.J. Greene

Those two along with junior guard John Sullen are the only three linemen on the Auburn roster that have started a game on the offensive line. Along with senior Jared Cooper and the battle at center between sophomore Blake Burgess and freshman Reese Dismukes, they comprised the line in spring practice. While it's a long way from being a finished product Grimes said it was nice to get them some work with the first-team, many of whom for the first time.

"I think it built some confidence for some guys," Grimes said. "At the same time we'll have even more competition going into this year because we have the addition of some new guys being here. On top of that we had some guys that weren't fully ready to compete in the spring, but now that they've been through the spring and summer they are in better shape and know the system better. I think they'll be able to compete at a higher level than they did in the spring. It will be interesting to see that's for sure."

Heading into 2011 the one player that seems pretty safe in his position is Mosley. Named to the SEC First-Team offense at media days, the former tight end/defensive end has improved by leaps and bounds and heads into his second season as an offensive lineman with more confidence.

"I think what Brandon brings to the table is a toughness and work ethic we want on our team," Grimes said. "Over the years long before we got here, Auburn has been good because it has been a blue collar place in terms of mentality. They've won because they ran the football. That's who Brandon is. He's a tough kid that is going to work hard every single day. Hopefully the young guys see that and try to emulate that."

On the blindside of the quarterback there should be a battle with Greene coming back and facing challenges from redshirt freshman Chad Slade and true freshmen Christian Westerman and Greg Robinson. Grimes said all will get a chance to show what they can do and may the best man win.

"We'll see where he (Greene) is," Grimes said. "He wasn't quite back to full speed in the spring, but he did practice. We'll see where he is and where some other guys are too. I always tell the freshmen to get themselves in a position to come in with the mindset that they are coming to win the starting job. If that doesn't happen we'll see that in time, but I'm going to give those guys an opportunity because the opportunity is there. It is a difficult challenge for guys to do that, but at the same time I've done it several times in my career. I'll play the best guys whoever they are, whoever gives us the best chance to win."

Blake Burgess

In addition to left tackle the other spot that may draw the most interest during preseason camp will be at center where the walk-on Burgess and the highly-recruited Dismukes will go head-to-head to see who takes over the spot.

"The good thing about the spring is that both of those guys got better," Grimes said. "I told them both that a lot of what happens in fall camp will be based on what they do this summer, not from my perspective but in terms of their own preparation. I'm anxious to see going into this fall camp who has worked hard and prepared themselves and gotten themselves ready to win this job. At this point it's certainly up for grabs."

John Sullen

At the guard position Cooper and Sullen are the odds-on favorites to win the jobs, but they'll have to hold off a large group of young players who are hot on their heels to see some playing time.

"I think they certainly have an advantage because even though they haven't had a lot of game reps, but they both know the system because they've been in it," Grimes said. "They've been coached by us for two and a half years. They've also been in some big games playing on special teams and filling in on the offensive line. Coop also played some as a tight end. They've been in some big games. It's not like they haven't played. That gives them an advantage, but it doesn't mean someone else can't do better."

Also in the mix at guard will be redshirt freshmen Eric Mack, Tunde Fariyike and Ed Christian along with true freshman Thomas O'Reilly. Grimes said Mack has worked hard to get his weight down to a comfortable level and that could determine how much of a challenge he puts up this fall. Christian has battled injuries and his coach said they'll have to see what he looks like in fall camp to determine if he'll be able to challenge early.

Another player making a comeback is big Aubrey Phillips. Coming to Auburn after signing with Florida State only to struggle with his weight and leave the team, the big tackle is back and showed some positive signs in spring practice working behind Mosley on the right side. Much like Mack, Grimes said the key is his weight.

"Neither of them were where they needed to be in the spring," Grimes said. "They kind of fit into the category of guys that competed in the spring, but not at the same level I think they'll be able to compete this fall. I think we'll get to see a little bit more of who they can be when we get in fall camp. How far along that is, that's yet to be determined."

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