AUBURN, Ala. — During the 2013 season, Auburn had 1,014 offensive snaps.
The vast majority of the time — 71.9 percent, to be exact — the Tigers ran the ball, as they tallied 729 rushing attempts. This fall, the offense is expected to be far more balanced. With Nick Marshall returning for his second season at quarterback and and the addition of a dynamic, game-changing pass-catcher in D’haquille Williams to boost receiving corps, the Tigers should resemble more of a high-flying attack in 2014 than the ground-based approach that led the nation in rushing last year.
Just don’t think taking to the air more often will ruffle the feathers of the offensive line.
If you ask the big men up front, little will change.
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“It’s been the same. Whatever happens, we just do both and try to improve in both parts of the game — the pass and the run game,” starting right guard Chad Slade said. “We’re just trying to get better in both of them. It’s not really a pass emphasis or a run emphasis. It’s just getting better at the base offense. “
Rhett Lashlee also recoiled at the term “emphasis.” Regardless of how things passing and rushing attempts break down game by game, he said that doesn’t alter the way the team practices. During those weekly sessions, Lashlee said the Tigers try to split the blocking focus equally. While the running game grabbed most of the headlines last season, Lashlee noted the offensive line was every bit as good when the Tigers threw the ball.
Then Auburn’s offensive coordinator went to the numbers for proof.
“Looking back at our sacks, we were credited with 18. Really, we had 15,” Lashlee said. “Three of them were run plays that were credited sacks. We didn't get them changed in time. Fifteen sacks in 14 games, only two could we saw was the offensive line's fault. They did a really, really good job for us up front. There were probably four or five where we put them in a bad situation with the call. Nick could have gotten rid of the ball a couple times and our backs missed a few.”
As well as the line played last year, Slade said he knows the unit can still kick it up a notch or two.
“We have very high expectations, especially us on (the offensive line), because everybody has game experience,” he said. “Everybody knows everything about the offense. We should be rolling now. These first few days of practice we’re going to get used to and get everybody involved, get everybody improved, and by week two, we should be rolling.”