Hasn’t rested on his laurels after deciding to return to Auburn for his senior year
By ANDY BITTER
AUBURN, Ala. — After deciding to return to Auburn for his senior year, left tackle Lee Ziemba hasn’t rested on his laurels.
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Coaches and teammates think Ziemba, a second-team All-SEC pick last year and one of the Tigers’ top NFL draft prospects, took his game to the next level during the offseason.
The 6-foot-8, 319-pound senior was named the team’s most improved player in the spring and continued to develop his game this August.
“I think that’s a real tribute to him,” offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “Because when you’ve got players with as much experience as he has, you see them getting better like this early and then later in their careers, they’ll continue to improve, but it’s at a much slower rate.”
Not Ziemba, who’s made giant strides in technique, body control and focus. Grimes hammered home that Ziemba can’t just rely on his physical advantage.
“He’s an aggressive kid so he wants to go knock everybody out on every play,” Grimes said. “In real football, that doesn’t happen.”
Ziemba will set the program’s record for consecutive starts if he starts every game this year. Ziemba is at 38; Will Herring owns the record of 49.
Ziemba had a strong junior year. Although he drew criticism for being flagged for a noticeable number of false starts, he didn’t commit a holding penalty, despite facing premier rush ends every week.
Still, he thinks his game has advanced considerably.
“I feel like I know the game of football a little bit better as far as what defenses are going to try to do to us, so I don’t have to think about as much pre-snap,” Ziemba said.
“I can look at it, see it, feel it and know. That’s just a testament to coach Grimes, how much he’s done for us.”
Ziemba, a Rogers, Ark., native, holds Auburn’s Week 1 opponent, Arkansas State, in high regard. The school was the first to offer him a scholarship.
“Sophomore or junior year of high school,” he said. “I was real excited back then, too. Just big getting your first scholarship offer. I had the NCAA ’07 game and I set my favorite school to Arkansas State. It was just neat getting that first scholarship offer. You always have a soft place in your heart for the first school that offers you. I’m real glad they get to come in here and play.”
By the end of the recruiting process, Ziemba, a four-star prospect, got at least 30 offers from major schools. Arkansas State quickly faded from the pack.
“Probably a little bit,” Ziemba said. “It was a fun ride being recruited and getting to see all the schools, and I appreciated all the offers I got.”
Ideally, defensive coordinator Ted Roof would like to have 22 players play on defense in a given game — 11 starters, 11 backups.
“I don’t know if we’re ready to do that or not right now,” he said. “Last year, I would have said we would love to have played 16 or 14.”
Roof hopes for his backups to gain more experience in games, although he is aware that circumstances dictate whether that’s possible. Still, he knows Auburn must make a concerted effort to rotate more players into the game.
“In order to have fresh guys in the fourth quarter, you’ve got to sub guys early,” Roof said. “You can’t put backups in the game once things have been decided one way or the other. You can’t be afraid to put them in and let them play. When you do that, there’s going to be some growing pains.”
The lists go on
Ziemba and center Ryan Pugh were named to the watch list for the Rotary Lombardi Award, which is limited to down linemen on offense or defense and linebackers.
Auburn has eight players on major national award watch lists: Pugh (Rimington, Lombardi, CLASS Award), Ziemba (Outland, Lombardi), Mario Fannin (Doak Walker), Darvin Adams (Biletnikoff), Josh Bynes (Butkus, Bednarik), Craig Stevens (Butkus, Nagurski), Demond Washington (Hornung) and Wes Byrum (Groza).