In Auburn's national championship season of 2010, the Tigers were fifth nationally in rushing at 284 yards per game. In 2011, after the departure of Cam Newton, Auburn dipped to 32nd nationally rushing for 182 yards per game.
Even more telling, against LSU, Georgia, and Alabama last season, Auburn averaged only 72 yards per game.
Auburn prepares for the 2012 season under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes with a new goal: Become the nation's No. 1 offensive line. Nothing else will do.
To accomplish that, Grimes is stressing the importance of the right mindset entering spring practice.
"The key is, at this point of the year, No. 1 for me, are we developing the right mindset in terms of work ethic and toughness. Are we building that physical mindset? No. 2, just learning to play the game, with some new things going on offensively and some new players being injected into all of our groups," Grimes said.
"We're just trying to teach those guys how to play ball at this level. Not only the system, but how to do things, and you know, it's been up and down, but I think we are making progress."
Grimes faces the challenge of not only grooming up and coming linemen like redshirt freshmen Greg Robinson and Christian Westerman, and true freshmen Shane Callahan and Patrick Miller, but also teaching them plus experienced players like John Sullen, Chad Slade, and Reese Dismukes an entirely new offensive scheme.
It's certainly a tall task that Grimes credits Loeffler for making easier.
"Everything is new initially, but one of the things that I think Coach Loeffler has tried to do a good job of is with the verbiage, try to create with a system that makes sense to the players. There are some systems where you just have to memorize words, and it's just pure, rote memorization," Grimes said.
"We have these brand-new freshmen come in this summer, that'll certainly help them in fall camp. There is a lot of new verbiage, and there are a lot of new things these players are having to learn, but we've done the right thing by trying to install it slowly and give them a chance to gain confidence."
Callahan and Miller are getting an introduction to college football during their first week of practice, but Grimes is encouraged by their improvements early on. As for Robinson and Westerman, Grimes has been more than pleased with their performance four practices into spring.
"I think having them with us last year helped them. Even though the system is different, if you're running power, you're still running the power play, that's not different," Grimes said. "So some of the schemes we're doing, there's carry-over from what we did last year, and their understanding of my expectations and how I would teach a certain technique, that's far beyond where it would be had they not been with us last year.
"But I've also been impressed with their desire and their want-to, and those two guys have got a lot of things going for them, but especially their work ethic and their toughness and their willingness to play the game the right way."
Returning starter Dismukes has also impressed Grimes, reshaping his body from a season ago. A more leaner, in-shape, and healthier Dismukes enters spring practice as a new man.
"Now he's a guy that steps in the huddle with confidence," Grimes said. "His body has changed, he's confident. He played all of last year banged-up one place or another, most of the time multiple places. I think he's just in a much better place physically and mentally right now. I've been very impressed with the start of his spring."
The difference between Loeffler's system and former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's might not be as dramatic as you think, Grimes believes. Certain aspects of the offense and the running game appear to have carried over. For Grimes, the biggest difference will be installing schemes and a tenacity that will allow Auburn to run the ball when the defense knows it's coming.
"There are times in every football game when you have to be able to run the football and everybody knows you have to run the football, and those kind of things help you do that," Grimes said. "If you're under center, you have more people on the field, maybe more people at the point of attack, whatever the case may be, I think it gives you more options."