Auburn Position Preview: Centers And Guards

The Auburn football team returns experienced players at the interior offensive line positions.

Auburn, Ala.--Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes should have plenty of options when he decides who lines up on both sides of Reese Dismukes, a player who came through with an All-SEC Freshman performance last year for the Auburn football team.

Dismukes is firmly entrenched at the top of the depth chart, but there should be serious competition to be number one at the guard spots.

The Tigers closed the 2011 season with John Sullen and Chad Slade as the starting guards. Both are back and both should be improved. They may have to be improved to hold off challenges from players like redshirt freshman Christian Westerman and redshirt sophomore Eric Mack.

Sullen, a 6-5, 336 senior, has a dozen career starts as a Tiger and looks to be on a mission to finish his collegiate career with a strong season. He is expected to open preseason drills with the first unit at left guard.

John Sullen is a senior from Auburn High School.

Slade, who is a 6-5, 314 redshirt sophomore, saw action in all 13 games in 2011. He started 10 of those contests. He opened the season at right tackle before moving inside to guard. There is a possibility Slade could play tackle this year, too, if the youth movement at that position causes problems for the offense. However, guard looks to be his best spot and he has a chance to excel there this fall after a strong finish to the 2011 season vs. Virginia.

Chad Slade takes instruction from Coach Jeff Grimes.

Christian Westerman should be tough to keep out of the starting lineup. He came close to playing last year as a true freshman before the decision was made to redshirt him. The 6-4, 298-pounder from Chandler, Ariz., has good quickness and plenty of strength to handle the position.

Christian Westerman is shown in action in spring training.

Westerman was a highly recruited prospect as was Mack, 6-3, 330 from Calhoun County High in Mathews, S.C. The former Under Armour All-American played in just five games last year, but showed promise after dropping weight to improve his quickness. Mack suffered a setback over the summer when he was grazed by a bullet during the incident that took the lives of former players LaDarius Phillips and Ed Christian, but the guard was not seriously injured.

The Tigers signed seven offensive linemen who will be freshmen this year. Six are expected to get their first looks at tackle. The exception is Alex Kozan from Valor Christian High in Highlands Ranch, Colo. Kozan was the subject of an intense recruiting battle involving Michigan, Iowa and Auburn before choosing the Tigers about a month after signing day. He will have a major adjustment to make because in addition to jumping from high school to college he is moving from tackle to guard.

If the Tigers need more help at guard one or more of the other newcomers could get a look at the position. Grimes says that versatile walk-on Blake Burgess can play guard, too, if needed. Burgess also has worked extensively at center and has also played tight end.

Tunde Fariyike, a 6-2, 302 redshirt sophomore, heads into the season as the No. 2 center. He played in all 13 games last season with much of his playing time on special teams. He has the task of trying to earn playing time at a position featuring Dismukes, who was good last year and is continuing to improve with added strength now that he has spent a year in AU's strength and conditioning program.

Dismukes notes the entire team has been pushed hard in the offseason as the Tigers work to improve on last year's 8-5 record. One of the keys to making that happen is for a better overall performance from the guys on the line of scrimmage. Dismukes points out that Grimes has told the guards, centers and tackles that the goal is to become the "toughest five in the country."

To make the happen the centers and guards will have to lead the charge because there is a real possibility the Tigers will be starting freshmen at both tackle spots this year.

Tight Ends Preview

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Defensive Tackles Preview

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