There's an old sports saying that states you need to be strong up the middle to have a successful team. That is true in baseball, but it holds equally true in football and on offense that starts with the center position. Auburn has one of the best in the country returning in senior Ryan Pugh. A 6-4, 297 senior, Pugh started all 13 games at center for the Tigers last season after splitting time at both center and tackle as a sophomore.
At the guard positions seniors Mike Berry (6-3, 316) and Byron Isom (6-3, 302) return after both played significant roles last season as starters for the Tigers. Berry sat out of spring practice with a minor shoulder injury, but should be full speed this fall.
Joining the other returning starters is Preseason All-SEC selection Lee Ziemba at left tackle. The 6-8, 319 senior from Arkansas is on pace to have a huge final year on the Plains after showing a great deal of improvement in a healthier junior season.
That leaves one starting position open on the offensive line, the same one that was open heading into the 2009 season, right tackle. Last year senior Andrew McCain filled in and did a solid job in his one season as a starter. This time around the job is expected to go to a newcomer and it will very likely be one of a pair of junior college linemen that came in for spring practice.
A tight end and defensive player coming out of Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, 6-6, 299 Brandon Mosley looked at home in the spring as he got a crash course in the position to get him up to speed heading into the summer. He and fellow junior college transfer Roszell Gaydon (6-6, 315) will battle for the job after Gaydon missed part of the spring with a minor injury.
Senior Bart Eddins returns for his fifth year after playing mainly in a reserve role in 2009 although he did start and play the entire game at Tennessee in Isom's absence. The 6-4, 304-pounder has battled knee and shoulder problems for his entire career and is hoping to finish strong in his final year on the Plains.
Auburn's only other experienced backup offensive lineman is junior center Jared Cooper (6-4, 300). While he doesn't have a start under his belt Cooper has seen action in 19 career games with his role on special teams.
Perhaps no player on Auburn's roster has done more of a makeover than sophomore lineman John Sullen. Arriving last summer at nearly 350 pounds, Sullen is now 6-6, 312 and could make a big move this season after playing a good bit as a true freshman. Andre Harris (6-3, 318) redshirted last year and should be vying for a back up role in 2010 as should junior A.J. Greene (6-5, 291). More help could come from walk-on Blake Burgess (6-2, 278, Rfr.) and fellow walk-on Jorrell Bostrom (6-3, 322, Sr.)
Looking for help out of the freshman class, Auburn signed a talented group, but it's unlikely any will be able to step into a key role right away this season. Perhaps the most ready is Ed Christian from Valdosta, Ga. At 6-4 and close to 300 pounds, Christian has the athleticism to play anywhere across the board for the Tigers but could get his first look at guard. Eric Mack is the mostly highly rated of the incoming offensive line signees but at 6-3, 360, it's doubtful he'll be in good enough condition early on to make an impact for the Tigers.
A player to watch in that regard is big Chad Slade from Moody. At 6-5, 316, Slade is an imposing presence on the field. If he can make a quick enough adjustment at offensive tackle after playing the position for just one year as a senior then he could move his way up the depth chart. Rounding out the offensive line signees is Tunde Fariyike. The 6-2, 330-pounder is expected to get his start in the middle of the line at either guard or center.
Byron Isom is an experienced guard for the Tigers.
Auburn's second-year head coach, Gene Chizik, says he is expecting more out of the offensive line this season with four returning starters to lead the way. Chizik adds that he will be disappointed if the group isn't significantly better in 2010 than it was in 2009.