Offensive Linemen See Progress

Offensive tackles Andrew McCain and Lee Ziemba discuss the A-Day Game.

Auburn, Ala.--A major area of concern for the Auburn football team with Gene Chizik entering his first year as head coach is the offensive line.

After Saturday's 57-31 A-Day win by the offense over the defense based on awarding points to the defense for such things as sacks and tackles for losses, the jury remains out on the offense line.

One of the reasons is that the number-one offense went against a defense consisting of the second and third-teamers. An impressive showing by the first offense that had quarterback duties shared by juniors Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle produced six touchdowns and a field goal while piling up 501 total yards--280 on the ground and 221 in the air.

However, the fact that the yardage was primarily picked up against second and third unit players skews the numbers. For most of the spring, number ones for the offense and defense went against each other. That wasn't the case for a record A-Day crowd of 45,381 with Chizik explaining the coaching staff wanted the players to have some fun and enjoy the day by not pitting ones against ones.

The first offense line includes four juniors who have been starters and one senior, Andrew McCain, who is battling for an opportunity to be a first-time starter at right tackle.

Left tackle Lee Ziemba has been solid in overcoming a knee injury that he played with in a disappointing sophomore season during Auburn's 5-7 campaign that ultimately led to the departure of Tommy Tuberville as head coach with Chizik coming on board. Ziemba had surgery following the 2008 season.

Ryan Pugh is making a move from right tackle to center, which is his best position. Mike Berry and Byron Isom represent experience at the guards.

The picture isn't that clear with the second unit as depth on the offensive line is a major concern. Avoiding injuries to starters is a must until depth can be developed.

Even with the concerns, McCain and Ziemba were very upbeat about the offensive line after Saturday's A-Day.

"The fan turnout was great," McCain said. "All the days we've been out at practice hitting and bumping heads the fans weren't there because the practices were closed. Today, the fans came out and we got to do it in front of people. They were excited about it and excited about where this is going.

"It has been a roller-coaster career for me, but today was a great day," McCain said. "It felt a little bit like a reward--to be in front of the fans and working with the first group. I feel like I've become a better player. We have become one as an offensive line over the course of the spring. It was really a reward today and it feels pretty good."

McCain pointed out that the depth issue could be eased with fewer injuries. "We've got a lot of guys that we have to get healthy," he said. "We've had guys in and out because of injuries, having to do a lot of shuffling.

Ziemba is pulling for McCain to step up and do the job at right tackle. "I believe he has the mindset that it's his last hurrah," Ziemba explained. "He's taking everything God has given him and using it. His work ethic in the weight room, running sprints and every day in practice has been outstanding."

A starter since his freshman year, Ziemba said he feels better after the surgery than he's ever felt. He displayed that on Terrell Zachery's 70-yard touchdown run on a reverse. Ziemba was 30 yards downfield when he knocked down cornerback D'Antoine Hood. When Hood bounced back up, Ziemba nailed him again to help spring Zachary.

Lee Ziemba (73) works out with McCain (75).

Like McCain, Ziemba says injuries have made it difficult for the offensive line this spring. "We've had a rough spring because of the depth issues," he points out. "We've been tired at times, but people have stepped up and I'm proud of our group," he commented.

The transition from Tuberville to having Chizik as head coach is going well, according to Ziemba.

"I feel like this is a brand new team. Attitudes have changed. What's expected out of us has changed. We don't think about what happened last year. Some guys have stepped up who weren't playing last year. Looking back, it's been a long year, but I am so glad to be a part of Auburn."

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