New And Improved Pugh Adjusting At Center

Junior Ryan Pugh talks about spring practice, playing center, and carrying some extra weight.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn junior center Ryan Pugh is used to up-tempo offenses. Having played in one during his high school years and then again last season, Pugh has seen his share of fast-paced practices. He admits though he's never seen anything quite like what the Tigers are going through now with new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn in charge.

While the practice speeds by, Pugh says that's not the only difference in what they're doing. Just three days in, the team already started working on situations such as third and short and third and long. Pugh adds that while things are far from perfect, the way the practices are set up has already helped the offense come along in his opinion.

"A 21-period practice seems like it went by in about 30 minutes to be honest with you," Pugh says. "There is always a definite start and end to everything. There is a goal behind everything we do in practice now. There is a lot of situational stuff. Coach (Gene) Chizik has done a good job of laying the ground rules for everything we do when we go team and picking up the pace. Having a definite winner and loser every time makes it a lot more fun."

The up tempo practices are something that is very welcome to Pugh and his teammates as it is accompanied by a physical running game and offensive philosophy. In his three years as a coordinator on the college level, Malzahn's teams have had a strong emphasis on running the football and Pugh says he sees that continuing with Auburn.

"It's really fun," Pugh says. "It's a downhill run game. Coach Malzahn stresses it every day, we're a run/play-action team who's going to be a tough football team. I think that's the mentality they're trying to establish right now. It's really a lot of fun."

Getting physical is something the Auburn offense tried to do at the end of last season, but wasn't able to accomplish because the line was smaller than in past seasons. Playing right tackle, Pugh says he weighed in at just over 270 pounds while Lee Ziemba was just over 280 on the left side despite being nearly 6-8. Pugh says now bigger and stronger, he feels more capable of doing the things necessary to be a quality lineman in the SEC.

"It's at 290 right now," Pugh says. "Last year I was 270. Carrying it is a lot more heavy, but using it, it helps out a lot. The guy across from you is going to be 300-plus anywhere you go. You'll catch a guy that is a little smaller, but he's probably really quick. Putting that weight on definitely helps as far as being able to get leverage, especially since I'm short already. I need a little more weight. I think it's helped us all the way across the board."

Not only is Pugh dealing with a different body, he's also able to focus on just one position for the first time in his Auburn career. Working exclusively at center, Pugh says he's just trying to figure out the ins and outs of the position now that it's his only job once again for the first time since he was a sophomore in high school.

"If anything it probably hurt me," Pugh says. "Today putting the pads back on at center after flopping around, you kind of get out of your groove a little bit. There's a little difference going from guard to center, but from center to tackle that's a huge jump. It's something that probably took away from me being able to get my technique and fundamentals down. I suffered a little bit from that today, not being able to make a certain block here or there that I should be able to make as a junior."

Helping Pugh and the entire offensive line make the adjustment to a new offense is first-year line coach Jeff Grimes. While they are still building a relationship, Pugh says he has already grown very fond of his position coach and is looking forward to what is coming down the line.

"I like him," Pugh says. "Coach Grimes is a very good coach. He's knowledgeable. I have learned more in three days with coach Grimes as far as football and technique than I've learned in a long time. I think he really cares about his players. It's a kind of mutual respect. There's a time when we laugh and play around and then there is a time we buckle it down and it has to be football time. I think that's something that is a good thing. You can go to him with anything. He's always there to talk to you. I've talked to the guys and we all really love him."

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