2004 Football Preview: Offensive Line

<b>Editor's Note: In the first of a series of articles previewing the 2004 football Tigers, position coach Hugh Nall discusses the depth up front for the Tigers and the expected starting five.</b>

Auburn, Ala.--Looking to replace departed starters Monreko Crittenden and Mark Pera for the 2004 season, Coach Hugh Nall returns a talented and deeper group of offensive linemen as the Tigers look to displace LSU as the team to beat in the SEC West.

Led by junior tackle Marcus McNeill and senior guard Danny Lindsey, the front five for the Tigers could be a strong group capable of controlling the line of scrimmage.

The veteran on the line, Lindsey, has been a full-time starter for three seasons and started part-time as a true freshman. After playing guard as a sophomore and center as a junior, the 6-2, 300-pounder moves back to guard in 2004, a move that Nall says should make both Lindsey and the offensive line better this season.

"Danny moving to guard should help us," Nall tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "His execution at guard I think is a little better at center. He'll still back up the center position. He'll get probably 15-20 snaps a day at center per practice. That's a big plus for us to move him back there. Jarrod Britt will back up Danny. He got some playing time last year and should help us there."

The most physically imposing and talented of Auburn's offensive linemen, McNeill returns after starting much of the last two seasons despite constant back pain. The 6-9, 330-pounder has good feet and has become much better in the run game, but must show that his back will hold up for a full season. If McNeill is unable to stay healthy or get the job done you can expect true freshman Leon Hart to get a long look at the position along with redshirt freshman King Dunlap. Nall says that McNeill's health will determine how the rest of the offensive line eventually shakes out.

"Marcus is at left tackle and that will give us a chance if Marcus can stay healthy," Nall says. "He won't be able to do like he did last year and just practice on Thursdays. You have King Dunlap at that position also. He's a guy with a lot of talent, but real young technique-wise and fundamentally. He needs to get better."

Marcus McNeill broke into the starting lineup as a true freshman.

One of the players who made the biggest move in 2003 is back and ready to tackle a new position this fall. Junior Troy Reddick, who started at guard last season, moves out to right tackle and should be a better fit on the outside than on the interior. Bigger and more physical, Reddick will enter the 2004 season at 6-5 and nearly 330 pounds. Nall says that Reddick's play at tackle during the spring was one of the bright spots up front.

"We're going to take Troy Reddick and move him to tackle," Nall says. "That will solidify that. He worked better at right tackle than he did at left tackle. Tim Duckworth is backing up the right tackle position. Ability-wise he's unlimited. He's a talent who can be a big-time player. He's been working hard this summer. I think once he learns some things he'll be looking at some playing time."

Troy Reddick blocks Thomas Anderson during a spring practice.

Used sparingly for much of last season until moving to tight end, sophomore Ben Grubbs enters the fall as the starting left guard despite having just one spring under his belt at the position. A natural offensive lineman, Grubbs displays good footwork and a strong upper body. A former defensive lineman at Auburn and a linebacker at Elmore County High, Grubbs is athletic enough to get to the corner and turn upfield ahead of the running back while also strong enough to hold his ground against a pass rush. Nall says that Grubbs has a chance to be a good one before he leaves the Plains. He will be backed up by sophomore Jonathan Palmer.

"I think Ben Grubbs has a chance to be a good player. He's very inexperienced with the fundamentals and the techniques and on top of the that, the recognition of things. He's one guy that has a lot of talent, he just needs to be in a lot of situations unfortunately to make mistakes so he can get better. I'm going to try to get him into as many situations in two-a-days to get him ready."

Ben Grubbs did a good job as a blocker at tight end last season after moving from defense.

The major question on the offensive line is at the center position where senior Jeremy Ingle is the projected starter, but many things could happen before the first game in September. At just 275 pounds, Ingle is small for today's game and that may be a problem for him as the tries to lock up the starting job against a myriad of challengers. The most formidable appears to be junior Steven Ross, who has played tight end in addition to time at tackle and center. At 6-6, Ross is just bigger than Ingle at 280 pounds, but has shown he's capable of handling the pressure.

There's a chance that several freshmen could also get a look, including 6-4, 290 William Sullivan from North Carolina.

"Jeremy Ingle had a good spring, but he needs to keep getting better," Nall says. "The move I'm excited about is the move of Steven Ross to center. He only had five or six practices at center, but I think he's got a chance to be a good center. We'll have some competition there."

Danny Lindsey (left) blocks against defensive tackle Jay Ratliff in spring drills.

For the first time since Coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff arrived for the 1999 season the Tigers are a solid two-deep at every position up front on offense. While everyone may not have the experience required to be a full-fledged standout performer, Nall says the group should be one that gets the best out of itself each day.

"Two-deep we have a lot of talent," Nall says. "It's probably as good a two-deep as I've ever had, but it's probably as inexperienced a two-deep as you could have. I think if we can get them through the first two games and get them some playing time and experience they'll have a chance to be a good offensive line."

Not known for playing many reserves on the offensive line since arriving in Auburn, Nall says there is a good chance that will change this season. With McNeill banged up and several young players hoping to break into the rotation, Nall says that he feels like he has a very healthy situation on the offensive line going into the 2004 season.

"I hope it's easier because I want to give a lot of guys some playing time," Nall says. "I have taken some criticism because I don't substitute, but when you don't have anything to substitute it's tough to put them in there. There's a lot of people that get on me because I don't substitute, but I'm not going to jeopardize the team if I don't think a kid is ready to play. I really think it's great because when you have competition for playing time everybody is more focused and everybody better be paying attention to what they're doing and executing because if not somebody is going to be replacing them."

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