Auburn O Line Using Less To Get More

Auburn's offensive line changes and the resulting success has proven that bigger doesn't necessarily always mean better.

Auburn, Ala.--Year in and year out in the NFL, the Denver Broncos have one of the best offensive lines in the business.

Year in and year out, the Broncos also have one of the smallest offensive lines in the NFL, but that isn't a negative. Instead, that has become a positive for one of the league's top rushing teams under Coach Mike Shanahan.

Putting the smaller line to use at the time was the architect of zone blocking Alex Gibbs. A former offensive line coach at Auburn before becoming the foremost authority on zone blocking in his days at Denver, Gibbs decided that quickness and the ability to get to the second and third levels in the running game were the biggest tools for an offensive linemen and not just overall size and strength.

While the trend has been to get bigger players in recent seasons, this year the Broncos still only have two players over 300 pounds on the offensive line and one of those is 6-8, 305 and by no means bulked up. That means they still have the agility to make plays on the perimeter of the defense to get the running game down the field.

That is also the formula that Auburn is using with Tyronne Green the only player over 300 pounds for the Tigers up front with Lee Ziemba checking in at 297. Choosing quickness and aggression up front by adding Ryan Pugh at left tackle and Chaz Ramsey at right guard, Auburn has responded with two consecutive victories and its best two offensive games of the season.

"Quickness," Coach Tommy Tuberville says of the advantages of being smaller up front. "Getting on the second level. Blocking down the field better. That is the reason the running game has improved I think. These guys are learning angles and stuff like that, using their quickness."

Lee Ziemba and Chaz Ramsey wait for the snap in last week's win over Florida.

One of the players who has made a difference is Ramsey. Weighing in at 286 pounds, Ramsey makes up for his lack of girth by being one of the strongest players on the team and also very athletic at the point of attack. He says that is a trademark of the line at the moment and something the coaches have said they want out of a line.

"Coach (Hugh) Nall and Coach Yox (Strength and Conditioning Coach Kevin Yoxall) always emphasize they don't want a bunch of big, fat offensive linemen," Ramsey says. "They want some guys that can get after it every play without getting tired. Running the zones and screens you've got to be quick on your feet and be able to go a long time. You need to pull and get outside and reach the ends and linebackers. Chasing linebackers as much as we do you can't be some big heavy guy that can't move."

In addition to being smaller and quicker, Ramsey, Pugh and Ziemba also lead the charge because of their high energy play. Excitable and always on the go, the trio has inspired the offense with their play in recent weeks. Ramsey says it's something that Nall likes about the group and is willing to live with the mistakes that come with playing true freshmen.

"We like getting after people," Ramsey says. "I guess you could say we've brought a little energy. We may not be blocking the right guy some times, but Coach Nall says as long as we've got a hat on somebody and getting after somebody then he's happier with that than somebody knowing what to do and not getting the job done."

Ramsey and the Tigers now face a challenge this week against the Vanderbilt Commodores. Many times the toughest thing for a team is not coming back after a loss, but after a big victory. Ramsey says that the energy and drive that Nall shows every day in practice is a constant reminder the job isn't finished.

"That's a great thing," Ramsey says. "At practice we were still excited about that Florida win but he was all about the SEC and Vanderbilt and how anybody can beat anybody. It has been proven. We've just got to get ready for Vanderbilt now."

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