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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Most Integral Player, No. 1: Lee Ziemba

We've reached the end of the countdown, and by process of elimination the No. 1 player on the MIP countdown list should come as no surprise. It's left tackle Lee Ziemba.

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  • Skill level: 5. Ziemba is a rare player. He's big (6-8) but not fat (319 pounds), plenty strong but with nice mobility. He's exactly the kind of player you need to handle the premier end pass rushers of the SEC. There are typical fan gripes about Ziemba, which all come with the territory for his position. Does he have a few too many false start penalties? Probably. But you don't see Ziemba get called for holding too often, which is rare for a left tackle. And it's not often that he gives up a sack either. Ziemba's been around so long that, like Pugh, fans probably won't appreciate him fully until he's gone and a first-time starter is on the left side of the line having trouble keeping up with speed of the game. You don't have to worry about that with Ziemba.
  • Production history: 5. Another tough category to gauge, just because offensive line stats are so nebulous, but we'll try to quantify his production. His 67 knockdown blocks were second on the team last year. He was part of a line that, as a whole, allowed only 21 sacks in 364 pass attempts, the fourth-best total in the SEC. And let's not forget the fact that Ziemba has done this for a while. He's started 38 games and, barring injury, will set the school record for starts by the end of this season. That's the kind of long-term productivity that programs are built around.
  • Position importance: 5. I used to cover Al Groh at Virginia, and when he wasn't being difficult with the media -- which was a large percentage of the time -- he liked to impart words of wisdom about the game, founded in 40 years of coaching experience. Here's one that stood out to me about the important positions in football (and I'm paraphrasing somewhat): "You've got to have a quarterback, you've got to protect the quarterback and you've got to get to the quarterback." In summary, you need a quarterback, a left tackle and a pass rushing specialist. Left tackle is one of the premier positions in the game and filling it isn't easy. Why do you think there's such a premium on franchise left tackles in the NFL draft? They go off the board quicker than quarterbacks in some years. They're that valuable. If you don't believe me, read "The Blind Side."
  • Backup competence: 5. Here's another spot where there's not much on the bench. Roszell Gayden, a left tackle by trade, would be the obvious choice to move to left tackle, but he's not even currently winning the battle with Brandon Mosley for the starting right tackle spot. Would he be able to step in at the most important position of the line, protecting Cam Newton's blind side? I'm guessing there would be a noticeable dropoff from Ziemba to anyone who replaced him. And when you're running an offense that relies on precision timing and rhythm like Gus Malzahn's does, the last thing you want to worry about is a defensive end messing everything up by crashing the play.
  • Leadership: 3. The only category I gave a mediocre score. Part of it is his position. Tackles aren't really in a spto spur on other players on the field. They're just out there on an island trying to keep their number from being called on the PA system. But Ziemba doesn't strike me as someone who fires up the troops. He doesn't have a magnetic personality like Newton or Josh Bynes. And that might change over time. A lot of players take on the leadership role more their senior season, whether it's telling younger players how they should be doing things or taking on a bigger role as a team representative when speaking to the media. Ziemba, as one of three Auburn player representatives in Hoover for SEC Media Days, will have a chance to strike a good chord there. Who knows? This number could be much higher as the season draws nearer.
  • Total: 23. Quite simply, he's the most irreplaceable player on the field. He's accomplished more at Auburn than anybody on the roster, he plays a premium position and the Tigers would have major problems if he were to go down with an injury. Ziemba might not always get the appreciation that he deserves, but by the time he's finished at Auburn, he'll be one of the most-decorated linemen in the school's history. That's quite a statement.


Unknown said...

I knew I saw a Ziemba in your future. Left tackle is indeed a very important position, possibly the second most important on offense.

I do think Gayden could step in and do an adequate job, so I wouldn't have given a 5 there, but I don't believe he is on Ziemba's level.

You also don't mention that Ziemba holds the record for the number of heads ripped off defensive linemen. He's a bad man.

Tar Heel Tiger said...

AB, I agree 100% and I've enjoyed your MIP profiles and analysis. Thanks!!!

Chris P. said...

Andy, great job on the entire list. Assuming, of course, no injuries this year and a good/great season, what would you say is Ziemba's future for the NFL? Linemen usually don't make the headlines, but I think he could go pretty high in the draft.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the list!....and I agree that Gayden could step up and do a mighty fine job if needed.

AUsome04 said...

Nice. Great points AB. If anyone doubted who should've been #1, they wouldn't anymore after your analysis. Based on the upside he has in size and ability, I'd say the fortunes of the Tigers will go a long way in determining how he's drafted. 10 or 11 wins: High 1st round. 9 or less (I don't think there will be a less, lol) maybe second round. I don't he goes past the second though. That's just my opinion. War Eagle

Andy Bitter said...

From what I've seen, Ziemba is projected as a third- or fourth-round pick right now. Scouts are concerned he's not quick enough to handle the speed rushers of the NFL and might be more suited to playing on the interior line.

But a lot changes during the season. Remember that Antonio Coleman was considered a late-first, early-second round pick at this point last year.