ATHENS, Ga. If one were to rank the most indispensable players on Auburn's roster, Reese Dismukes' name would be near the top of the list. And that might be giving him short shrift, as a compelling argument could be made that Dismukes is the Tigers' most irreplacable player.
It's a combination of factors, one being the rising senior's durability; in the 39 games Auburn has played in the past three seasons, Dismukes has been the starting center in all but two of them. Couple that with the fact there's no proven commodities behind him, and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes is crossing his fingers that Dismukes' health can hold up for one more season.
If the unthinkable happened and Dismukes suffered a severe injury, the Tigers would turn to junior college transfer Xavier Dampeer, who enrolled this spring.
Grimes made sure to get Dampeer as many reps as possible during spring practice. In that time, the coach liked what he saw, giving him hope for the future.
Even so, Grimes hopes Dampeer isn't forced into action this fall.
"I feel like he's capable of being an adequate backup right now," the coach said prior to speaking with the Greater Athens Auburn Club on Monday. "That's a good thing. We feel good about his snaps. We feel good about his ability. I think in time, with another fall camp and another fall and a spring practice (next year) that he can be a good player."
It was the same cautiously optimistic approach Grimes took with Devonte Danzey. Like Dampeer, Danzey is a junior college transfer, joining the Tigers in the spring of 2013. And like Dampeer, Grimes hopes he can ease Danzey into the grind that comes with being an offensive lineman in the rough-and-tumble SEC.
"I think he's a guy that can give us adequate backup help," Grimes said of Danzey, who appeared in three games last season. "Hopefully we'll win some games and he'll get a chance to get in. He definitely can help us."
Danzey isn't the only lineman jostling for supremacy on the second string.
Take Robert Leff, a third-year sophomore from Fairhope, Alabama. Last season, he appeared in all 14 games for the Tigers, though that mainly came on punt protection. Leff made major strides during the spring, however, seeing time at both right and left tackle.
And in Grimes' estimation, Leff still has room to grow.
"He's going to be a fine player at Auburn," the coach said. "I see him having a chance to be really good."
Elsewhere, Grimes expects "a really good battle" to take place during fall camp between Will Adams and Jordan Diamond, as they fight to become the backup at right guard. On paper, it's hard to differentiate between the pair, as both are third-year sophomores who redshirted in 2012. Adams saw the field more last season taking part in 13 games compared to Diamond's four and may have a slight edge heading into the fall for the simple reason that Diamond sat out this spring after having knee surgery in February.
Without having a chance to see him this spring, Grimes admitted he had no idea "how physically able" Diamond is as the team goes through its summer workouts.
But that didn't deter Grimes from viewing the procedure as a positive.
"Obviously he was hurt and that's going to affect your performance," he said. "So maybe (the surgery) helped him that's the way I look at it. Maybe the surgery helped him, because he was really struggling there at the end of the fall."