Auburn, Ala.--While the play of the quarterbacks has gotten a lot of criticism this season for Auburn's inconsistent play on offense, the offensive line has shared plenty of the blame as well.
With one more opportunity to show what it is capable of in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Virginia, Coach Jeff Grimes said his group is focused on playing hard and getting a win. As for dealing with the criticism the coach said he's not concerned about what others are saying or about what his players are hearing, other than from him.
"I think that we have certainly deserved some criticism, yes," Grimes said. "Whether the amount they've gotten is fair or not, I don't know, because I don't pay much attention to it and honestly I try to get them to the point where the only criticism they hear is from me because that's really all that matters. But they don't need to be focused on it, and I certainly don't.
"What we need to be focused on is how we can get better each week," he said. "This bowl game is another great opportunity for us to go out there and show what we can do. It's a great challenge, they've got a really good defensive line, some big tall strong guys in their front, and it'll be a good opportunity for us. I'm looking forward to it. It's one more chance with this group."
It's the last chance for this group to play together, but the bowl practices have given a chance for the future of the offensive line to continue growing up. That future likely includes freshmen Greg Robinson and Christian Westerman. Both were highly recruited and Grimes said they've done a good job of pushing through a redshirt year and making progress.
"There was a point, I would say mid to maybe two-thirds of the way through the season that he really started coming on," Grimes said of Robinson. "I think he settled into his role, recognized he wasn't going to play this year and really started trying to get better. I think for a while they go through learning the system, trying to figure out what expectations are, let Coach yell at you and not get your feelings hurt.
"He's really grown up a lot emotionally and mentally, learned how to play the game, and learned how to work hard all the time. He's a great kid, he really is. He wants to do well, wants to do right and I think he's recognized whatever work he does now is setting him for next year."
While Robinson is a player who pushed for playing time this season because of his physical nature and athleticism, for Westerman it has been a more gradual push. Coming in at just over 270 pounds, he has consistently bumped up his weight to his current 290 pounds. He is a player who Grimes said has a chance to build on a redshirt year along with Robinson and be a cornerstone for the line for years to come.
"I don't want to compare the two necessarily because they're two different kids and play two different positions, but he's made a lot of progress, too," Grimes said. "And, similar to Greg, there was a period of time where he was probably a little disappointed he wasn't playing, but I think he got to the point where he accepted that and was okay with it and recognized ‘Okay, this is where I am and this is my role right now, so I can go through the motions or I can really work to get better.'
"And he's got tremendous work ethic," the offensive line coach added. "He's one of those kids that you don't ever have to kick him in the rear end, he already know how to work hard. But I think this year-both those guys, having the opportunity to stick with us and kind of learn the routine and be around the guys that are playing, that will benefit them a lot."