Spring Football Preview: Offensive Line

In the first in a series of position previews as the Auburn Tigers head into spring drills, the offensive front is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--A year ago the Auburn football team was faced with a major rebuilding project on the offensive line. As the Tigers prepare for spring training 2012, they must replace the starting tackles from last season's team, but overall the challenge facing position coach Jeff Grimes looks less demanding than the one last spring when the Tigers had to replace four multi-year starters.

This spring the Tigers return their starters up the middle with Reese Dismukes back to play center with guards Chad Slade and John Sullen on his flanks.

Waiting to show what they can do are a pair of highly-regarded young players, guard Christian Westerman and tackle Greg Robinson, who redshirted last fall as true freshmen.

Brandon Mosley and A.J. Greene, the first string tackles last year as seniors, must be replaced, but there are several interesting candidates for those assignments.

One possibility is Slade, who started at right tackle in the first college game he played last season as a redshirt freshman.

Slade ended the year starting at left guard, a spot he played the second half of the season after Jared Cooper's senior season ended prematurely with an injury. Slade started once at right tackle last season, twice at right guard and seven games at left guard.

Chad Slade is shown at the Georgia Dome in Auburn's bowl victory over Virginia.

Whether or not Slade emerges from spring practice as a guard or tackle, or continues to play both positions for Grimes, will be one of the areas of interest for the Tigers who are under new offensive management with Scot Loeffler replacing Gus Malzahn as the coordinator.

Grimes said that he believes that Slade, who is 6-5, 308 pounds, can be effective at either tackle or guard. The sophomore from Moody High School finished the season with a strong performance in Auburn's Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Virginia, his 10th collegiate start.

Greg Robinson is shown during bowl practice in December.

Robinson, who is 6-5, 315 pounds from Thibodaux, La., is a lineman Grimes considered playing last fall before making the decision the young player would best be served by a redshirt season.

The same decision was made with Westerman, who was ranked as Scout.com's No. 1 guard prospect in the nation as a senior at Hamilton High in Chandler, Ariz. Westerman is expected to challenge for a starting spot at guard whether or not Slade moves outside to tackle.

Christian Westerman is shown in practice as a freshman last last fall.

Signing offensive tackles was a huge priority for Coach Gene Chizik and his staff in the 2012 class. Attrition had cut the offensive line depth significantly. From the 2010 signee class alone, tackle Roszell Gayden quit the team, Shon Coleman has been sidelined as he continues his recovery from cancer and guard Ed Christian has been put on a medical hardship scholarship due to injuries.

Another lineman on last season's roster, Aubrey Phillips, who signed with the Tigers in 2009, saw his playing days end last preseason due to a medical condition.

Two of the new signees, Patrick Miller from Dwyer High in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and Shane Callahan from Chaparral High in Parker, Colo., graduated early and will be able to go through spring training, which is scheduled to start on Friday, March 23rd.

Auburn's other offensive line signees are planning to arrive on campus this summer. That group includes Robert Leff from Fairhope High, Avery Young from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Jordan Diamond from Chicago, Will Adams from Tyrone, Ga., and Alex Kozan from Highlands Ranch, Colo. All five of those players lined up at tackle in high school.

Kozan is planning to move inside to guard in college, but the other four are expected to get looks at tackle when they arrive on campus.

The other starting guard for the Tigers to close the season, John Sullen, will head into his senior campaign with a significant amount of experience. He has played in 38 games at Auburn with a dozen starts, 11 which were last year at right guard.

Reese Dismukes won a preseason battle at center with walk-on Blake Burgess and started all 13 games for the Tigers last season, earning Freshman All-SEC honors in the process.

Reese Dismukes is from Spanish Fort High School.

Burgess, who can also play guard, lined up at tight end at times last fall to give the team an extra blocker. The Tigers also return Tunde Fariyike, a redshirt sophomore who can play center and guard.

More depth on the offensive front could come from Eric Mack, who will be a redshirt sophomore, and Thomas O'Reilly, who will be a redshirt freshman

The Tigers and all other Division I teams are allowed to have 15 days of spring practice. The workouts are scheduled to run through April 16th and the annual A-Day spring football game is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 14th at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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