July 12, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN - From Alabama and beyond, Auburn's offensive linemen came to town carrying glittering credentials.
They came to Auburn from Colorado, Chicago, Louisiana, Florida, Kansas, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama. Ten of 15 scholarship veterans were 4-star recruits or higher. And there is not a senior in the group.
Some were tested under stress last season. Some have yet to see the field when it counts. But those that win playing time will be called on to pave the way for first-year head coach Gus Malzahn's hyper-speed offense. They worked and learned under first-year offensive line coach J.B. Grimes in the spring. They've thrived in strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell's demanding regimen.
In early August, it will be time to see who will play and who will wait, and time to show they are ready to pick up the legacy of the 2010 offensive line that played a pivotal role in winning a national championship.
Fourth-year junior guard Chad Slade is the veteran of the bunch. He was a redshirt on the sideline the night the Tigers won the national championship. As the starting right guard last season, he suffered with his teammates through a 3-9 season in 2012. He says more than just the coaching staff has changed in the past year.
"There is a lot of energy in the weight room, a lot of energy in the locker room," Slade says. "It's a lot different from last year. When you have everybody together it makes it 10 times better than everybody having their heads down. And we're all together.
"The way the o-line was last year and this year is way different. I feel like we have really come together. We are going to have a better season, and we're going to have a better offensive line."
Four starters - left tackle Greg Robinson, right tackle Pat Miller, center Reese Dismukes and Slade - return from last season. Avery Young started the first three games at right tackle before being lost for the season to an injury. Dismukes and Robinson are virtually certain to be starters again. For the rest, there is much to be done.
Dismukes, going into his third season as a starter, emerged as a leader on the field and in the locker room. And he got his head coach's attention.
Reese Dismukes probably had the best spring of any of the linemen up front," Malzahn says. "He showed a lot of leadership ability and really led the way."
Grimes says he was mostly pleased with what he saw in the spring, but he expects even more when the Tigers take the field again.
"I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Ryan Russell and our strength guys," says Grimes, who worked with Russell at Arkansas State. "I think they do a wonderful job not only developing strength, but developing the flexibility and the bend and those kinds of things that you need to be a good offensive lineman."
Malzahn's offense can be particularly challenging for the 300-plus pounders who play up front. There isn't much time for rest. Miller says they are prepared to do what it takes.
"It's not hard, because Coach Russell is conditioning us like that," Miller says. "Your body is used to it, but your brain has to get fast. I think we're all doing pretty well. I think we'll have an awesome offensive line."
Here is a position-by-position look:
Robinson, a third-year sophomore and returning starter, is the leader at left tackle, but redshirt freshman Shon Coleman plans to be heard from. Coleman signed with Auburn in 2010, was diagnosed with cancer, overcame it and says is ready now to show what made him a 5-star recruit.
At right tackle, Miller started nine games last season and emerged from spring as the starter. But Avery was limited in the spring. If he's fully healthy when practice starts, things could get interesting.
Redshirt freshman Shane Callahan, Robert Leff and Will Adams will also get opportunities to show if they are ready to get into the competition. They and others could play either tackle or guard or even center.
Slade will be difficult to unseat because of his experience and leadership, but redshirt freshman Jordan Diamond will not likely go quietly. Diamond was the starter at left guard early in the spring, had some injury issues and was moved late to the right side.
The most compelling offensive line race of the preseason could be at left guard, where redshirt freshman Alex Kozan and junior college transfer Devonte Danzey left spring practice in almost a dead heat.
True freshman Deon Mix will get an opportunity, but a redshirt is likely.
Probably no player on Auburn team is more secure in his starting position than Dismukes. Junior Tunde Fariyike, who started two games last season, worked some at guard during the spring but returned to center and is expected to back up Dismukes.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: