Finishing The Focus Of The Offensive Line

Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes gives his early impressions of spring practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Despite having just one day to see his troops on the field, first-year offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said he got a crash course on his players in Tuesday night's practice. While they weren't in full pads and there was very minimal contact, he says he still go at feel for what the guys can do and what they need to work on.

"I think overall we know a couple of things," Grimes said. "One I think we have a long way to go to get where we need to be as a team as an offense and as offensive linemen. We've got a long way to go in a lot of different areas, but we expected that. Any time you're putting in a new offense it's going to take some time. Not only are you putting in a new offense, but you're teaching new techniques and new terminology.

"These guys are speaking a new language. It's going to take some time. That's okay. The thing we've got to get more consistent on is how to practice, how to go hard, how to do things fast and finish to the whistle every single play. The positive is our guys are willing. They want to do the right things. They want to play football. They want to be successful. I think they are coachable."

With left tackle Lee Ziemba, guards Byron Isom and Mike Berry, and center Ryan Pugh all back with starting experience, Grimes has a solid group of veterans to work with in addition to players such as senior Andrew McCain and junior Bart Eddins. While the guys have played a lot of football for Auburn in the last few seasons, Grimes says this spring is almost like starting over because of having to learn a new system under Gus Malzahn along with a different offensive language.

"We're just trying to learn the scheme," Grimes said. "Because it is all new for them we're just trying to make sure they understand who to block, how to block them, making the right calls and the terminology and that we're doing things the right way. If we're running a gap play, we're blocking our gaps the way we should be. The back is fitting in the right place. The tight end is blocking his guy. The back is reading the people we need to be blocking. That sort of thing. That's the number one thing is getting a feel for the offense."

Lee Ziemba and Andrew McCain work during Tuesday's practice.

Ziemba could be one of the key components to the offensive line for the 2009 season. Playing through pain last year, he had knee surgery after the season to clean up some looseness in the knee. Grimes said after watching him in the first practice he saw some good things from the 6-8 junior tackle.

"He moved around good," Grimes said. "I didn't see any question marks whatsoever in terms of his ability to move around or to keep going. I saw no limping or any hesitation whatsoever." Auburn is scheduled to practice Thursday afternoon weather permitting. If that happens it will keep them on pace to put the pads on for Saturday's practice. Even though that will be in shells, it will give the team a chance to hit for the first time under the new coaching staff. Grimes said while he's looking forward to that, Tuesday's practice was important as well in setting the tone for how he wants his linemen to play once they strap on their gear.

"Even though we're not in pads and there's not as much (contact), we still look to see guys practicing fast and finishing to the whistle," Grimes said. "That, you can never compromise on. If you want to have a team that is going to play hard there can be absolutely no bending on that rule. You've got to finish to the whistle every single play."

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