Heading into spring practice that has been moved forward to begin on Sunday, Auburn's offensive line has gone from inexperienced to a a veteran group in one season as all five starters return led by senior center Jason Bosley and senior guard Tyronne Green. Talented true freshmen Lee Ziemba, Chaz Ramsey and Ryan Pugh all started in 2007 as well, leaving Coach Hugh Nall with a group that got plenty of playing time together last season.
"That's definitely a big plus, number one having that much experience," Nall says. "And yet it's really not that much experience in a new offense. We still have a bunch of young guys up there. They played a lot of snaps, but in the overall scheme of things you would like to have two or three-year starters as experienced guys. Then you have a really good offensive line.
"Those guys made a lot of headway last year. They grew up a lot, but there is still a long way to go with the freshmen and the other guys. Bosley had not started a lot and neither had Tyronne. They certainly did some good things. I'm excited about it, but we've got our work cut out for us."
The Tigers preparing to score in The Swamp against Floria.
Leading the way are Bosley and Green. Two of the most consistent linemen in the SEC last season, both started all 13 games for the Tigers. While they've still got plenty of things to improve on, Nall says both are what you like to have returning in the middle and that is experienced and smart.
"I thought Jason had a real good year," Nall says. "His knowledge of the overall game is really good. That certainly helped him get the job done at center. Also having the bowl practice and the bowl game in the new offense gave us a mini spring practice if you would so we're not totally lost next week when we start practice. That's a big plus.
"The same thing with Tyronne. The amount of time in this new offense plus his playing time last year, his age and experience of being around bigger and stronger guys, those are two solid players that we can build on."
The key to the development of the offensive line for the 2008 season may be the play of the offensive tackles in Coach Tony Franklin's new offense. Winning the right tackle job last season, Ziemba will move to his natural position on the left side for spring practice.
Lee Ziemba celebrates the bowl win over Clemson.
Ziemba's move means a different look on both sides as Pugh will work on the right side along with junior Andrew McCain. Nall says the amount of time his three true freshmen got on the field last season in the heat of battle should give them a leg up to hold onto their jobs the second time around.
"I think just being in the arena of a big-time football game helps," Nall says. "Cold-turkey going into a hard-nosed battle is tough, but they've certainly been in hard-nosed battles. That truly helps. There are still a lot of things that can happen on a football field to an offensive lineman that they haven't seen yet because of their lack of total snaps, but being in that atmosphere and that feeling of big time competitive football on national TV, they've been through that. That little bit of ice-breaking that has to be done with any young player has already been done."
If the five linemen hold onto their starting jobs coming out of spring practice it won't be because they were handed them. A stiff challenge is expected from a deep and talented group of back ups beginning in the spring. While it appears a lock that the five will still be starters as the Tigers head into the season opener next year against Louisiana-Monroe, Nall says he's not willing to concede that point just yet.
"I'm looking at all of them and I hope they all go into things with the attitude of winning a starting job," Nall says. "It's going to be wide open. I'll go in there with those starters because they have been starters, but it will be very competitive in my mind. I sure hope it's going to be competitive in their minds.
"Andrew McCain is one that needs to come on. He's certainly talented enough to be a starter if he ever decides he wants to be a starter and therefore play the game the way it's supposed to be played every snap. Lee (Byron) Isom is one that I think has a lot of potential. Whenever he wants to decide to play the game full speed and push himself to another level he's got a lot of bright side to this game. Mike Berry is in the same boat.
Andrew McCain will be in a battle with Ryan Pugh at right tackle.
"Then you have Bart Eddins, who I think works hard and has come a long way in just trying to learn the fundamentals and getting away from everything forward in a defensive mentality. Now he's having to sit back and be patient in an offensive line-pass protection mentality. Kyle Coulahan is in the same boat there. Then you have another guy who is very talented and I like the way he works. Jared Cooper is in that same group. There is certainly some potential quality players, but that will be up to them. I think they've worked hard in the offseason. What we've got to do is make sure they are getting the job done the way it's supposed to be done and competing for the two-deep and therefore starting time."
With so many capable players ready to make a move in the spring, the chance for Auburn's deepest offensive line in the Tuberville Era is more than a pipe dream. Because of the style of offense the Tigers will employ this season featuring a no-huddle attack and many more plays than 2007, Nall says it has him thinking about substituting up front more than he ever has, but he notes the only way he'll be able to do that is if the players behind the first team step up their play beginning in spring practice.
"I'll just have to get a feel for it," Nall says. "You still would like to have the same five together. I've always said this and wanted to do this and this offense might give us a chance to do this, but I would like to have two groups without having to substitute one or two guys here or there. There is the potential for that, but they're going to have to prove to me they're ready to do that."
The Tigers open spring practice on Sunday afternoon following the Auburn-Alabama basketball game at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The practice will be open to the public. Fans are encouraged to attend the football practice as well as the Auburn baseball game against East Tennessee State. Fans may use their ticket stubs from basketball for free admittance into Plainsman Park.