Kam Martin sees the difference, every time he tucks the ball away, when he starts to churn his legs, and his eyes dart up from under his helmet.
What a sight: Green grass and open space.
Auburn’s veteran running back seemed to say as much last week after the team’s second scrimmage this fall, describing how Auburn’s offensive lines and leaps and bounds ahead of where it was at this time last year.
After piecing together its five-man front last fall, Auburn’s got five senior starters back this year who’ve forged bonds through fire — and that, Martin said, is going to be a major difference for the Tigers this season.
“That O-line is different,” Martin said, fresh after running behind those linemen in that scrimmage last Wednesday. Auburn continues its countdown toward kickoff against Oregon on Aug. 31.
“Coach Grimes has got them right,” he said.
That would be offensive line coach J.B. Grimes, who’s now back for his second season in this, his second stint coaching on the Plains.
“Coach Grimes will tell you, we’re a world ahead of where we were at this time last year,” senior center Kaleb Kim said earlier in preseason camp. “We’re all feeling pretty good about it,” he said — ‘we’ being himself, starting left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, starting left guard Marquel Harrell, starting right guard Mike Horton and starting right tackle Jack Driscoll.
They were patched together around last August, and often criticized early in the season before coming together late in Auburn’s disappointing eight-win season in 2018.
But now they’re back together with experience together — and with experience working under Grimes — and that’s what’s making that ‘world’ of a difference for the Tigers up front this fall.
“One of the key elements in coaching a group of offensive linemen is that everyone is talking the same language,” Grimes said last Thursday, the familiar gravel in his voice meeting with the media on the day Auburn took its team picture in Jordan-Hare. “This time a year ago — obviously we had 15 spring practices and the summer last year — but it takes a while to learn a new language. You don’t do it overnight.
“Maybe Rosetta Stone will try to convince you that you’re going to learn a new language overnight, but that’s just not true,” he joked. “It’s the same way with the offensive line and right now we’re all talking in the same language. They understand exactly what I’m talking about.”
Now, he says, when something needs to be adjusted, it can be adjusted quickly because the group is on the same page, in its terminology and how it communicates.
Last season marked Grimes’ first season back after coaching at Auburn from 2013-15.
Now going into Year 2, Auburn has its set starters in place and they’re earning praise from coaches and teammates alike. Grimes’ next question lies with building depth behind those starters — for the troubled water sure to come at times this fall, and beyond.
“I want to see a second unit step up,” Grimes said. “I want to see somebody make that quantum leap in becoming a guy I feel good about putting in a game right now, where you feel like you won’t have a dropoff.” He feels that way about backups Bailey Sharp and Nick Brahms. Now he wants to see more step up.
“Someone else has to make us, all of us as a coaching staff, feel good about saying, ‘Get in there and let’s go make something happen’. The rest of those guys need to make sure they do that.”
Auburn opens its season Aug. 31 against Oregon in Dallas.
“We have a lot of chemistry going between all five of us,” Kim said. “We all feel like we’re making some really good strides.”