The offensive line may be the toughest position to evaluate and recruit. Just about anybody can pick out a star running back, receiver or defensive end on video. But finding a potential All-SEC offensive lineman is much more involved.
It starts with finding enough quality linemen to put on your initial recruiting board.
“The thing that makes it most challenging is that there aren’t that many of them,” Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “There aren’t enough guys that are big enough to play in the SEC that can also move well enough to be productive at this level.
“You can take the top guys, and everybody knows they’re the top guys, so you recruit them because you’re like everybody else and see the same things on film.”
But there aren’t enough of those top guys to go around so Grimes and other offensive line coaches have to do a lot of digging.
“The real challenge for me and the guys who do a real good job evaluating offensive linemen is the guys who go to that next group of guys and they figure out which one of those guys is going to be the best guy,” Grimes said.
“That’s where you look at all the intangibles, their background, how long he’s played the position and all the things that go into his story.”
While the recruitment of many players begins when a college coach watches his sophomore or junior video, Grimes likes to do his homework well before he slides in a CD.
“If somebody brings me a guy from their area or I hear about a guy, then I call his coach first,” he said. “What I’m going to try and find out right away is how intelligent he is, is he a tough guy, and is he going to work hard and be responsible and do things the right way?
“That gives me a framework to go into the film. If a guy has decent ability and has all that other stuff, then my belief is he’ll work himself into being a productive offensive lineman. If he’s lacking in any of those areas then you have to dig into it a little bit more and find out why.”
Once the video starts rolling, Grimes has some specific things he will evaluate.
“Can a guy move his feet? Is a guy stiff? If a guy’s stiff, if he can’t bend, doesn’t have a good stance, can’t bend his knees and roll his hips, you’re not ever going to fix that. That’s a big red flag,” he said.
“If he can do those things, then I want to see if a guy will come off the ball and get after somebody and finish plays in a physical manner.”
Getting a prospect in for one of Auburn’s summer camps is another evaluation method that Grimes places a lot of emphasis on. He mentioned freshman Chad Slade as an offensive lineman that really helped himself at a camp before his senior season.
“He’s a guy that hadn’t played that much and you look at his junior film and you see enough there to go, ‘Yea, maybe,’ but not enough to go, ‘Yea!’ You get him in camp and in about 15 minutes I’m going, ‘Yea, he can do it,’” Grimes said.
“The other thing you find out at camp is you get to know the kid. So all those questions I had on intangibles, when I get him to camp, I’m not just getting him in drills where he can show what he can do physically, I’m asking him to do a specific technique and see if he can do that, see if he’s coachable. I put him through physical drills to make him work hard and see who’s going to keep working hard to do it the right way or who’s going to give in and get sloppy.”
Grimes said those intangibles probably play a bigger part with offensive linemen than any other position.
“I think if I was coaching any position I would want to know that but I think a guy’s intangibles play into it a little bit more than they do at other positions,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys who were average players when they showed up, or not any good, and they became good offensive linemen because they were tough and they were hard-working and they willed themselves into being a college football player.”