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May 11, 2014
J.B. Grimes played a major role in helping Auburn re-gain its national relevance so quickly last season, galvanizing an offensive line that struggled a year earlier.
The experience did nothing but energize Grimes, who is entering his 35th season as a college coach.
"I think I can do it indefinitely," Grimes said earlier in the week. "Hey, I love coaching offensive line. That's all I've ever done. I've either been in a field -- because I was raised in a cotton field -- or on a field my whole life. I knew that being in the field was a whole lot worse than being on the field."
Grimes said he was pleasantly surprised by what he encountered upon being hired by Gus Malzahn in December 2012. Reese Dismukes and Chad Slade had two seasons of varsity experience, Greg Robinson was coming into his own and a handful of intriguing youngsters (Patrick Miller, Avery Young, Alex Kozan and Shon Coleman) were vying for starting jobs.
He had a good feeling.
The intuition turned into serious results. Auburn led the nation with 328 rushing yards per game by leaning heavily on the front five. The Tigers also allowed only 18 sacks in their 14 games, which was among the lowest sack rates in the country.
Though Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle paradigm limits sack potential, the offensive line nonetheless upgraded its pass-protection ability by a significant margin.
"I knew that there was some talent here but I didn't realize we had some kids here that wanted to win, that wanted to get better," Grimes said. "I'm really proud of the fact that each week we got a little bit better. That's the thing as an older coach that you really look for -- Hey, are they improving or are they taking a step back? They're either getting worse or they're getting better, they're not staying the same. Never will."
Neither will the personnel.
Robinson on Thursday became the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Auburn will enter fall camp with six linemen who either have started or are in serious contention for a starting job, which Grimes and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said is a good problem to have.
However, Dismukes and Slade are entering their final seasons of eligibility. A big year from Miller, Young or Coleman could thrust them into the 2015 draft spotlight.
Grimes always is formulating new solutions.
Grimes said the 2013 season gave him an ability to market more than just his university to recruits.
"The biggest thing is you've got to sell Auburn and that's an easy sell. You can sell Auburn," Grimes said. "I think right now you've got to sell the fact that we're on the uprise. I think Auburn is about to take another step forward. In some programs you hope to win games. At Auburn you don't hope to win games; you win championships and I think that's a historical fact. I think you sell that."