ATHENS, Ga. — Compared to some of the other units at Auburn, the offensive line offered little drama during the spring.
Sure, the Tigers were faced with the unenviable task of replacing Greg Robinson, who started all 14 games at left tackle last season and was taken with the second overall pick in last month's NFL draft. That still meant the team brings back four starters from last season — and a fifth if one wants to count Patrick Miller, who was in the lineup for the Tigers' first five games of 2013 before he lost his spot due to an off-field indiscretion.
With that in mind, J.B. Grimes deemed the spring a success for his group.
"We've got a fairly veteran outfit coming back on both sides of the football, so it probably wasn't as physical a spring as we've had in the past because — to a certain extent — I know what (senior center) Reese Dismukes and those guys (are) capable of doing," the offensive line coach said Monday night prior to speaking to the Greater Athens Auburn Club. "There's certain other guys that got some work, but overall, we felt good about the way it ended up."
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One thing that made Grimes chuckle was the brouhaha over Chad Slade. A rising senior, Slade started every game at right guard last season. But at a pair of limited practice sessions open to the media, Slade was seen working at left guard — and with the second-team offensive line, no less.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee forcefully disputed that Slade had been demoted after meeting with reporters in April.
Grimes expressed a similar sentiment Monday.
"I think y'all (the media) did make too much of it because he never practiced with the second team. He never took one snap with the second team," the coach said. "He took every snap with the first team, even though he took some at left guard and some at right guard. So yeah, y'all made a mountain out of a molehill on that one."
And once again channeling Lashlee — who noted at the time that the offensive line was simply "mixing and matching" to build more depth — Grimes said moving Slade to left guard and shifting Avery Young inside from right tackle to right guard amounted to nothing more than tinkering.
"The spring, that's the time to experiment with those kind of things," he said. "To give an Avery Young a chance at guard and to move Chad Slade over and to move Pat Miller over to the right side — just do some things that (are) hard to do in fall camp."
But what of the left tackle spot, the only position on the line where a starter has yet to be named?
Grimes said fall camp will open the same way it did in the spring: with Miller and Shon Coleman battling for supremacy.
"Quite frankly, we've got a number of guys that have the ability to start and that's a good problem to have," he said. "Pat Miller is one of those guys. Shon Coleman is one of those guys. We've got a number of guys that we feel good about putting in a ballgame."