The combined number of returning starts at tackle is a grand total of one. The Tigers lost players at the position who started 39 times at Auburn. That single returning start belongs to redshirt sophomore Chad Slade, who is expected maintain his starting spot at guard he held at the end of last season.
Greg Robinson is shown during a 2012 spring training session.
At the end of spring training the offense featured redshirt freshman Greg Robinson at the top of the depth chart on the left side. The No. 1 right tackle was even less experienced with early high school graduate Patrick Miller running with the ones.
Grimes watches Patrick Miller (51) during spring training.
The good news for Grimes is that the Tigers signed seven high school offensive tackles with impressive backgrounds playing the position. At least six of those newcomers are expected to get a look at tackle this preseason with the exception being Alex Kozan, who is scheduled to play guard.
A player from last year's signee class did enough in spring training to excite his teammates about his possibilities at left tackle. Robinson, who is 6-5, 309 pounds with good quickness, looks to be the guy the Tigers will count on protecting the quarterback's blind side as well as being a key blocker for the running attack.
Grimes agrees with Robinson's teammates who predict the redshirt freshman is going to help the Tigers this fall. "I think Greg is a guy who can be as good as he wants to be," says the offensive line coach, who cautions there will be growing pains for a starter who has yet to take a snap in a college football game.
That will likely be the case on the right side, too, where Miller was one of the highlights of spring training with his aggressiveness and hustle. At this time last year he was on the practice field preparing for his senior season at Dwyer High School in Palm Beach, Fla., so there is a big question about how he will do against a much higher level of competition trying perform with no collegiate experience.
Coach Jeff Grimes is beginning his fourth season on Coach Gene Chizik's staff.
Auburn's offensive line coach will be working overtime in August to get Miller ready to play. "He is an extremely competitive and tough kid," Grimes says. "He is a young kid we are expecting big things from."
The other tackles are young, too. Shane Callahan from Chaparral High in Parker, Colo., graduated high school early and participated in spring training. Four other tackles graduated in the spring and arrived on campus this summer. That group includes Will Adams from Sandy Creek High in Tyrone, Ga., Jordan Diamond from Simeon High in Chicago, Robert Leff from Fairhope High and Avery Young from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., High School.
Shon Coleman, who has missed the last two seasons while recovering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, wasn't cleared for contact in the spring, but has been able to work out with his teammates. If everything goes as hoped, the former high school All-American could see his first collegiate playing time this fall. Just stepping on the field in a game would be a major victory for Coleman.
If he is needed at tackle the Tigers could go with Slade, who started the 2011 opener at right tackle before moving inside to guard where he started nine games. Guard looks to be Slade's best spot, but he should be able to handle the tackle spot, too.
Considering the youth at tackle, no matter who the Tigers put on the field at the positions, no Auburn assistant coach has a bigger challenge awaiting him than Grimes as the Tigers prepare for 2012 season.