Fast forward to this preseason and a different Lee Ziemba is on the field. Now back to his ideal playing weight and healthy after off-season knee surgery cleared up his problems, the Arkansas native says he's ready to have a big year now that he's strong enough to deliver a blow once again.
"I finally have the power to stop the bull rush," Ziemba says. "I feel a lot better and stronger. Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall), I give him all the credit. He did such a great job of rehabbing me and keeping me strong in the weight room when I couldn't do things with my knee. He worked my leg strength and helped me gain weight. I just appreciate what he's done for me. He's the best strength and conditioning coach in the nation."
Back to form on the left side, Ziemba and Mike Berry have worked together since spring practice and are starting to form that bond that is necessary for a good offensive line to get the job done. With Ryan Pugh at center, Byron Isom at right guard and Andrew McCain at right tackle, the first give have pretty much been cemented in since the start of the preseason. That's a big plus says Ziemba.
"It helps a lot," Ziemba says. "Me and Mike are working a lot better than we did in the spring on double teams and things like that. It's going to help a lot. We're getting better and better as we go."
With the first group virtually solidified, the focus has been on building depth behind the starting five. While familiar names such as Bart Eddins, Jared Cooper and A.J. Greene are in the mix, Ziemba says he's been impressed by some of the younger guys and their willingness to work in camp.
"I see an eagerness to learn," Ziemba says. "That's probably the biggest thing. John Sullen sticks out to me very much. He just soaks up everything the coach tells him to do. Andre Harris is trying hard. So is Jorrell Bostrom. He's doing a great job. He doesn't know anybody but he's doing his best and doing a great job.
"Vance Smith is doing a great job," he adds. "He was asked to gain 45 pounds. I don't know very many people that have gained 45 pounds in six months but he did it for his team. He's backing me up and learning and getting better every day. It's good to see."
Finding some quality depth is not only big for the upcoming season and the future but also for the preseason. With Gus Malzahn installing his hurry-up/no-huddle attack, the tempo of each and every practice and the speed at which they take place has been ramped up significantly. Ziemba says it's something that should benefit the entire team as it gets ready for the 2009 season.
"Not only for us but for our defense as well, our tempo is really going to help," Ziemba says. "They're working at our speed and not everybody runs our speed. It's going to help them think faster and quicker and be in better condition. For us I think once we get going at the pace we should be going then defenses won't be able to keep up. It's going to cause some mental errors that wouldn't normally be made."
Playing his high school football in Arkansas and just minutes from where Malzahn built a powerhouse at Springdale High before moving to Arkansas, Ziemba had the opportunity to see first-hand what his offense was all about so when he came on board it was an exciting time for Ziemba. Now fully integrated into the offense and preparing for a new year, Ziemba said the offense and the entire coaching staff has the team believing and moving forward.
"I've seen this offense first-hand at the high school and college level," Ziemba says"It works everywhere he goes. The other guys see it too that aren't familiar with it because he's got an answer for everything the defense does, which we haven't had all the time. Anything they do we can out-scheme them. That's pretty incredible.
"Trust in your coaches means everything," he adds "Trust and confidence in your coaches is really big for a player. There is no doubt in my mind we have that."