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February 21, 2008Auburn returns a lot of starters from last season but no position is more stacked with returning starters and experienced players than the offensive line.
All five starters return upfront giving offensive line coach Hugh Nall a lot to work with when spring practice gets underway Sunday, Feb. 24.
"It's been a long time since I remember having that many back," said Nall. "It's certainly a positive. We've still got a lot of work to do. The good thing is we have a lot of guys stepping up and competing.
"I think there's some good, quality depth out there. It's going to be fun to see what happens."
Despite having the starters back, including three that started as true freshmen last season, Nall expects a lot of competition this spring.
"We'll go in with a starting five but I hope the guys not in the starting five understand its wide open," said Nall. "Anybody can take anybody's job. If they play and perform better than the one in front of them, they'll move up.
"I'm going to play the best five."
Sophomore Lee Ziemba will man the left tackle position after starting all 13 games at right tackle as a true freshman last season. Ziemba played left tackle in high school.
"What Lee did best was play hard," said Nall. "He gave us a chance to win games with his effort and the attitude he brought to the offensive line.
"I want to see him continue to develop his fundamentals and finish techniques better. He's all about playing with great effort."
Junior Andrew McCain will begin the spring as Ziemba's backup. McCain could also get a look at the right tackle position.
"It's time for Andrew McCain to step up," said Nall. "He needs to play the game the way it needs to be played. He's been inconsistent with his level of play at times. We need to see him play good on every snap.
"If he proves to me he's one of the best five then he'll play. We'll either move him to the right or move Ziemba to the right. It's wide open but you really want to solidify the left tackle position with two good players."
Sophomore Ryan Pugh, who started seven games as a true freshman at left tackle, will begin spring as the starting right tackle. Pugh will also get reps at center, the position he was recruited to play.
"Ryan Pugh is a center at some point in time but right now, I've got a pretty good center," said Nall. "Ryan has played enough tackle in this type of system to give us good, quality play out there just like he did at left tackle last year. Right tackle may be more suited for him.
"He's just a hard-nosed kid."
Behind Pugh will be redshirt freshman Jared Cooper.
"I'm anxious to see Jared Cooper," said Nall. "We redshirted him and he's certainly been working hard in the offseason.
"Any young offensive lineman like Jared, their pass protection has to be worked on, and he has to work on learning the system. He didn't really get to run the system in bowl practice so it's going to be a catch-up deal for him."
Senior Tyronne Green returns as the starter at left guard.
"I thought Tyronne had a really good year for being a first-year starter," said Nall. "I thought he did some really good things on pass-pro and run blocking. When he gets on the edge pulling or on screens we've got to get a little more production out of him."
Sophomore Byron Isom will begin spring as Green's backup. Isom will also get a look at right guard.
"I've really been excited with what I've seen from Isom in the offseason," said Nall. "The way he's been working, he's going to be pushing for one of the five or at least fighting for some playing time. We'll probably work him at both the right and left side.
"He seems to be getting a little more physical and pushing himself a little more. I think he's got a chance to be a good player for us."
Sophomore Chaz Ramsey returns at right guard after starting 10 games as a true freshman last season.
"I think Chaz really did some good things for us," said Nall. "He played hard. I thought we asked him to do a lot of things that you really wouldn't want to ask a young lineman to do. Whether he was ready or not, he tried and made mistakes full speed. I thought he had a great first year for getting thrown in the fire like that.
"He's just got to get more physical in all aspects. That comes with gaining more mass and strength in the weight room."
Nall expects Isom, sophomore Bart Eddins and redshirt freshman Kyle Coulahan to push Ramsey during spring drills.
Both Eddins and Coulahan came to Auburn with a defensive background. Eddins played defensive line in high school and was moved to offensive line last year.
Coulahan was recruited as an offensive lineman after playing defense in high school. He wound up working with the defensive line on the scout team last fall to help shore up depth issues.
"The big thing with Bart is getting the mentality of coming from defense where you go all out," said Nall. "The fundamentals on the offensive line are more controlled. You have to be under control to make a block."
"Both those guys are very similar in their mentalities. I like their toughness and their aggressiveness. We just have to control it to hitting the ball in the fairway instead of in the woods. They hit it hard but it's been going in the woods too much."
Senior Jason Bosley returns at center after starting 16 career games over the past two years.
"He brings great leadership and is a very hard worker," said Nall. "He's just a special young man, an Auburn University graduate. He recently got engaged so he's got a lot to work for and play for and he's really fun to watch work out there. He pushes himself to new limits every day.
"I think the experience he had last year will carry him into an even better year this year."
Behind Bosley will be sophomore Mike Berry, who will also get a look at both guard positions and right tackle. Berry started three games at right guard last season.
"Berry needs to play more consistent, hard-nosed, aggressive, fundamental football," said Nall. "He's just got to do it more and more on a level basis and not be so up and down."
Nall said Pugh will also get some snaps at center along with Ramsey.
Further depth will come from sophomore Lee Tilley, and walk-ons Rudy Odom and Jackson Timmerman.
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Once you've signed up, check out all our spring previews below and get ready for a HUGE WEEKEND as Auburn holds its first Junior Day, begins spring practice, hosts Alabama in basketball and opens the baseball season at Plainsman Park.
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