AUBURN, Ala. — In the first game with a new-look offensive line, Rhett Lashlee didn't dispute the assertion that the unit played well Saturday versus Arkansas.
It gave up only one sack, after all, and helped the Tigers gain 595 yards of total offense. And it wasn't like last year, when, by and large, the line only paved the way for the running game. Sure, they still did that Saturday, as the Tigers ran for 302 yards. But they also passed for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
With that in mind, it was hard for Lashlee to complain.
"I thought the O-line got better as the game went on," Auburn's offensive coordinator said. "You've got guys like Shon Coleman playing his first full game in probably four years. You've got Avery Young playing his first game at right guard. Chad's (Slade) moved over to the left, Pat (Patrick Miller) hasn't played since the fourth game of last year. I think it probably took them a half to kind of just get comfortable again because we were smart in fall camp with our starting five O-line and they didn't have as much live work as maybe they had in the past."
Few have had less work than Coleman in recent seasons. As has been well-chronicled, the former five-star recruit in the class of 2010 battled leukemia, which sidelined him for two years. He was cleared to return to action in April 2012, and last season, he spent his time as Greg Robinson's backup at left tackle.
Saturday, he was in the starting lineup at the spot Robinson once manned.
No, he wasn't perfect. But Lashlee took no issue with it.
With all Coleman has had to overcome, the coordinator wasn't going to nitpick.
"Really proud of Shon. I know (offensive line) Coach (J.B.) Grimes is, too," Lashlee said. " ... He didn't have to come out. He didn't cramp up or anything like that. I was really, really proud of the way he finished and I think he's just going to get better every week."
Gus Malzahn hopes the same thing can be said of the entire line as the season progresses. From what he saw, the unit's communication during the opener was good. Still, he knows growing pains are in store until the Tigers' line has a few more games under its belt.
Once that happens, Malzahn said there's no telling how good the unit could become.
"Each game, as long as we stay healthy, I feel like we’ll get better and better. You can (only) do so much in practice, but in games you don’t know what you’re going to get and so guys have to make adjustments," he said. "I think overall for the first game working beside new people, I felt pretty good. The great thing is that they want to get better and they have that attitude. If they stay healthy they’ll have chance to be a really good lineup.”
That's the plan, according to Reese Dismukes. Looking back on Game 1, he felt "pretty solid" about the play of the line as a whole. Across the board, Auburn's center — entering his fourth season as a starter — believes the Tigers' line has great talent.
The challenge now is showing that every time they take the field.
"If you look at us last year at this point I think we're ahead of that, but you'd expect that a year into the system," Dismukes said. "But you've got five new guys working together. It's going to take time to get completely jelled and know what everyone is going to do in certain situations that happen on the field. That just takes reps and no doubt in my mind Coach Grimes will continue to work with us and we'll continue to get better."