Auburn offensive tackle Lee Ziemba trying to fix mistakes, break superstitious habits

Lee Ziemba's father helped set him straight.

The Auburn offensive tackle, who played in high school at Rogers, Ark., was wrestling with the decision of whether to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft when Mike Ziemba pointed out that he had some unfinished business even after starting 38 consecutive games.

"He brought to my attention some things that I hadn't quite reached my goals that I set," Ziemba said. "Yes, I played a lot of games here. Yes, I was good enough to make second-team All-SEC. Those are great things. However, it's not the ultimate goal. In order for me to reach those goals, he brought to my attention that I needed to correct some mistakes that I was making and be more consistent."

What was holding him back? Holding, for one thing. And false starts.

The 6-foot-8, 320-pound Ziemba is Auburn's biggest, most established offensive player and few question his potential. But the senior has also been maligned by fans for drawing too many flags, which get an offensive lineman noticed much more than flattening a defender.

Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes admits that's been an issue with Ziemba, but also said that there were at least three false starts mistakenly called against the big tackle last season. Twice, he said the left guard was a bit slow to move after the snap, making it look like Ziemba shifted early.

The other time the center didn't snap the ball and several linemen jumped, but Ziemba was flagged.

"They all weren't his fault," Grimes said. "However, he's had his share, that's for certain. What I'm most proud of is he went through an entire spring and didn't jump offsides once in practice and we've been through three weeks of fall camp, he hasn't jumped offsides once. I think he's taken the steps that are necessary to correct that."

The feedback from the NFL advisory last fall said technique was the biggest thing Ziemba had to work on. Ziemba will only say that his draft projection was pretty high.

Buffalo Bills guard Kendall Simmons, a former Auburn player, assured him you get plenty more chances in college to fix mistakes. Make too many in the NFL, Ziemba notes, and "you'll be looking for a new job pretty quick."

He apparently took the desire to heart. Offensive coaches gave him their most improved player award after spring practice. That's saying something for a player who is poised to break Will Herring's school record of 49 starts, barring injury.

"For a guy that's probably our most highly rated draft prospect and a guy that's in a position to break the all-time record for starts at Auburn, I think that's pretty phenomenal," Grimes said. "I think that says a lot about him. He's just very focused right now on helping his team get better, improving his own game and playing as hard as he possibly can.

"This entire last spring semester, if he wasn't in class or he wasn't lifting weights, he was sitting right there on that couch watching film with me or down the hall in the offensive line meeting room watching film. He's just very, very hungry to succeed right now."

Despite that desire, the superstitious Ziemba is taking one risk: He hasn't cut his hair since late last year, and the shaggy mane drops down to his shoulders beneath a backward-turned cap.

He wore his hair short last season after the Tigers had gone 5-7 when he let it grow out as a sophomore.

Baby steps.

"Now, I'm trying to get away from being so superstitious," Ziemba said. "I drive myself crazy being as superstitious as I am. I have to win two Solitaire games on my phone before I get to the stadium on game day. If I don't I'm panicking. I put my right shoe on, then my left shoe. I put my left knee brace on, then my right knee brace. I drive myself crazy being so superstitious, so I'm trying to break that.

"I listen to the same songs in the same order. Oh man, it's ridiculous. It's bad."

Not surprisingly, the Arkansas native and avid fisherman is a big fan of country stars like George Strait and "anything Alan Jackson."

Quarterback Cam Newton likes the long-haired look on the guy who protects his blind side.

"That's his type of swag or whatnot," Newton said. "Having a different hairstyle might be kind of obnoxious or crazy. But with Lee, it fits him perfectly."

Besides, he adds, "I wouldn't want no pretty boy trying to protect me."