With four starters returning from one of the worst offenses in Auburn history, the line play needed to get better after the Tigers averaged just 18.7 points and 305 yards of total offense per game in 2012.
That is not the say all of the problems were on the offensive line, far from it, but allowing 37 sacks and rushing for just 148.4 yards per game meant there was plenty of room for improvement when J.B. Grimes took over as the offensive line position coach.
Anchored by center Reese Dismukes and left tackle Greg Robinson, Auburn's offensive line has been perhaps the most consistent thing about the Tigers so far in a 4-1 start to the season. Allowing just four total sacks and leading a rushing attack that is averaging 242.2 yards per game on the year, the line play is starting to come together and Robinson said that speaks for the entire offense.
"We started off slow in the beginning because a lot of people were still getting familiar with the offense, but Coach Malzahn stresses it every week that we have to get better and it's been showing each week," Robinson said. "Eventually when we get to the point where we can execute the offense like how we're suppose to it'll be even better."
Following a week off to work on correcting mistakes and fine-tune their play, the offensive line put together its best performance of the season in the win over Ole Miss. Rushing for 282 yards and three touchdowns while controlling the line of scrimmage, Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee said the performance was exactly what the coaches were looking for out of the offensive line against the Rebels.
"We challenged our guys really across the board, but especially up front, to be physical," Lashlee said. "Be the more physical football game, and I really thought we were. I thought from start to finish up front we were really trying to be physical. I think it showed as the game went on.
Junior Reese Dismukes is having a strong season at center.
"I think our offensive line has done very good, I really do," he added. "I think they've gotten better each week. I think we've proven one strength of ours is running the football...I think there's still plenty of room for improvement, but I've been proud of the way those guys have worked together and really done a good job, especially in a lot of situations where people know you're going to run it."
That happens in the redzone quite often. When you shorten the playing field for a defense it makes it tougher for the offense to score, but this Auburn team has thrived in that role so far. Scoring 89.5 percent of the time, just behind LSU in this week's SEC stats, the Tigers have 12 touchdowns and five field goals in 19 trips inside the 20-yard line this season. Lashlee said their play in the redzone and overall comes from knowing the coaches believe in them.
"I think we've built their confidence up," Lashlee said. "They know that we're going to run the football. They know that we believe in them. That is part of what we're going to do. I don't know if it's scheme, I don't know if it's tempo. Probably some of it to be fair to everything is that they're also a year older, every one of them. They should be getting better."
In addition to Dismukes and Robinson, Auburn is also getting quality play from junior right guard Chad Slade, sophomore right tackle Patrick Miller and redshirt freshman left guard Alex Kozan. Lashlee said the group has come together under the guidance of Grimes and that comes as no surprise to him.
"J.B. Grimes is as good a fundamental coach as there is. He did wonders with the offensive line at Arkansas State last year. We led that league in rushing. I think we were towards the top in fewest sacks allowed. He's done a really good with these guys."
Favored heavily over an outmanned Western Carolina team for homecoming this weekend, Auburn's offensive line should have another opportunity to continue to work on the fundamentals and get better as a group. With a tough stretch of games upcoming, including a trip to Texas A&M next weekend, Robinson said this week is just another week to get better.
"We really see that we have a chance and the better we get the more work we put in," Robinson said. "We continue to get better each week. Really we're just listening to what the coaches say because they really have our best interests. And I think if we just buy into the fact that we have to get better each week to be able to beat the harder teams we play later on in the year."