Jeff Grimes isn’t big into simply doling out grades following a football game.
Auburn’s first-year offensive line coach likes to go beyond the traditional evaluation system. In meetings he’ll highlight the positives and negatives from the previous game, taking time to talk to each player individually about what went well and what didn’t.
Then, in an odd twist, he makes his linemen critique themselves.
“Never had to do that,” right guard Mike Berry said. “I think that’s really big because everybody knows, although we had almost 400 yards rushing in the last game, we could have done a lot of things better. We see that and that’s what we’re going to correct.”
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So far, there hasn’t been much to fix. Auburn’s starting five — Lee Ziemba, Berry, Ryan Pugh, Byron Isom and Andrew McCain — have been a major reason for the Tigers’ early-season success.
After two games, Auburn ranks second nationally in rushing yards, averaging 345.5 per game. Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb rank 1-2 in the SEC in rushing.
“That’s a credit to the offensive line,” Tate said. “They’re making our jobs a lot easier.”
The group has been just as solid in the passing game. The Tigers are one of only 12 teams in the country that have not yet allowed a sack, keeping quarterback Chris Todd’s jersey relatively free of grass stains.
“Coach Grimes has done a great job with those guys getting them together to play as one,” head coach Gene Chizik said.
Grimes, who coached at Arizona State, BYU and Colorado before taking the Auburn job, has been a departure in style from his predecessor, Hugh Nall. Whereas Nall embodied an old-school, rough ’n’ tumble approach, Grimes takes a more cerebral tack.
“He evaluates the problem more I believe,” Berry said. “He just doesn’t get on you. He helps you see what you did wrong in a positive light. He doesn’t yell at you. I don’t see him get down a lot, and he always tells us to get our demeanor up and never let it change. Just because something bad happens in a game doesn’t mean that’s the end of it. Don’t get down on yourself. Look forward to that next play.”
Grimes refuses to get wrapped up in the grading system, which tracks the percentage of time a player correctly does his job during a given game. He instead focuses on a few major categories.
“I look at how many times they put a defender on the ground,” he said. “We count every time someone gets knocked down. Then we look at several different things I call big negatives — a penalty, you give up a sack or a pressure (even if you didn’t give up a sack, if you force a quarterback to throw it early or get hit) or a missed assignment.”
Grimes has also stressed being physical. Nearly every lineman bulked up in the offseason (some by as many as 30 pounds) to maintain power while run blocking, but offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s system demands that each player is in good enough shape to move at a breakneck speed, an odd set of demands to which players are still adjusting.
“All of us as offensive coaches try to emphasize to those guys is, ‘If you’re tired, they’re even more tired,’ ” Grimes said.
“They’ve got to run to the ball every play. We conditioned for it every day, and hopefully we’ll be in better shape than the defense is.
“If you do it the right way, as the game goes on, you begin to wear on them. If you’re running the ball well, the running game should always be better in the second half.”
So far, that’s been the case. Auburn has out-rushed its opponents 379-109 in the second half of games this year.
“It’s a confidence booster,” Ziemba said. “It’s good to see the other guy bending over and putting his hands on hips. He’s tired. Just come off the ball and keep it rolling.”