Spring Practice Preview: Offensive Line

SPRING PRACTICE PREVIEWS
Quarterback
Running Back
Wide Receiver

Tight-End

In 2011, LSU’s offensive line played a huge role in the team’s overall success.  The offense ran the ball very successfully, and they often did so when everyone on the planet knew they were going to run the ball.  The offense established an identity as a very physical, tough running team, and most of that was due to the play of the guys up front.  

LSU loses three contributors but just one starter from last year’s group.  From the starting unit, only left guard Will Blackwell is gone.   But at the same time, Josh Dworacyzk returns after missing last year due to injury.  Dworacyzk started the 2009 and 2010 seasons at left guard.  So it seems like a simple plug-in with Josh D taking over for Blackwell, right?.   It’s not that simple at all.  

Dworacyzk comes off a knee injury and at this point, LSU does not know whether they can rely on him as an every down player in 2012.  It is also unclear just how much he will participate in spring practice.  If he does participate, I’m assuming it will be in a green no-contact jersey.  At the same time, La’El Collins is filling in at left guard and looks ready to play.  I suspect that Collins will work with the starting group throughout spring while Dworacyzk tries to re acclimate himself to playing college football.  If we assume that Dworacyzk is ready to go in the fall, does he play left guard or does he fill the “6th man” role as a part time player and fill-in wherever needed?   My guess is that La’El Collins is your left guard in 2012 while Josh D is the sixth man and first guy off the bench.

LSU also loses T-Bob Hebert and Greg Shaw.  Both guys proved their value when coming in to play for injured players.  That depth at offensive line helped LSU tremendously.  Will some young guys step up and provide similar depth in 2012?

At left tackle, junior Chris Faulk (pictured above) returns for what could be his last year at LSU.  Faulk really broke out in 2011 and established himself as one of the top tackles in the SEC.  He will find himself on a number of pre-season All-SEC lists in the fall.  He should once again provide steady, and often dominating, play on the left side of the line.  

P.J. Lonergan returns for his third season as LSU’s starting center.  Lonergan does not get enough credit around the conference, but he is one of the Tigers’ best offensive linemen.  Finding a suitable backup to Lonergan is high on the priority list this spring.  Currently, it looks like sophomore Elliot Porter will work with the second team at center.  However, LSU is recruiting a junior college offensive lineman that would join the team this summer if signed.  Reportedly, they like him at center, so he could potentially be a factor when the fall rolls around.  

Junior Josh Williford has been a part-time starter for each of the last two seasons and looks to have the right guard spot nailed down, and the same goes for Alex Hurst at right tackle.  

The big questions this spring, other than those involving Dworacyk, are how the second team will look.  We will see a lot of new guys stepping up.  

At guard, I expect senior Matt Branch to be on the second team.   Sophomore Evan Washington is also coming back from an injury, so he may not be able to go either.  If he is, then I suspect he’ll be other guard on the two deep.  If not, look one of Trai Turner, Jonah Austin or Corey White, all redshirt freshmen, to be there.   If/when Dworacyzk is out there, then he could go through the motions with the second team.   True freshman Vadal Alexander will also look to make a move up the depth chart.  
Tackle looks a bit more unsettled.  Junior Chris Davenport will be one of the tackles on the second team.  Your guess is as good as mine as to the other tackle on the second team.  Prior to his injury, Washington practices at both tackle and guard, so he is a possibility.  Trai Turner, Jonah Austin or Vadal Alexander may have to fill in right tackle.  Austin seems like the most likely even though I believe LSU wants him at guard for the long term.   Looking way ahead to the 2013 season, LSU will have a question mark at tackle if Chris Faulk leaves for the NFL.  Assuming La’El Collins will slide outside to left tackle, who will be on the right side?   Davenport is a possibility and the newcomers (Derek Edinburgh and Jerald Hawkins) may provide another option.   It will be interesting to see if any of those guys get any game reps at tackle during the season to get them ready.  

Big Questions
1.  How much will Josh Dworacyk participate this spring?
2.  Is Evan Washington healthy?
3.  Is Elliott Porter ready to the backup center?
4.  Who is the fourth tackle?
5.  Of four freshmen guards, who will make a move?

Spring Practice Preview: Offensive Line

LSU looks to replace departed seniors Herman Johnson and Bret Helms on the offensive line this year. The good news is that both starting offensive tackles return to anchor the line. LSU has sufferered an absurd amount of attrition at offensive line over the last few years. That unfortunately continued this off-season as backup lineman Ernest McCoy left the program. Over the last 3 years, LSU has lost McCoy, Jarvis Jones, Zhamal Thomas, Matt Allen, Mark Snyder, and Steven Singleton. It’s like the OL position is on a self imposed probation. Because of that, we’ve seen defensive linemen Will Blackwell and Joe Barksdale move to the offensive line.

After flirting with the idea of leaving early for the NFL, Ciron Black returns to LSU for his senior season. We all know what Black can do. He’s been a starter at left tackle since his freshman season. He’s probably the best offensive lineman in the SEC, and he’ll be on several pre-season All-American lists. This spring, Ciron needs to concentrate on staying healthy, setting an example, and teaching the younger players as much as he can.

Returning at right tackle is junior Joseph Barksdale. In his first year a starter, Barksdale was solid but not as consistent as you’d like. I expect he’ll much improved this season as the former defensive tackle was still very new to playing offensive line last year.

The other returning starter is senior right guard Lyle Hitt. Most assumed that Hitt would slide over to play Center in 2009; however, Miles stated in his press conference last week that Hitt will remain the starter at right guard. Hitt is a solid player, but not spectacular and he’s not a guy that’s going to win any All-SEC Awards. At times last year, most notably against Florida, he was a liability as defensive linemen went around him and through him. As a senior, I’ll look for Hitt to be more consistent.

So that leaves starting positions open at left guard and at center.

At left guard, we won’t see a whole lot of competition. The coaches have done nothing but praise Josh Dworacyzk since he’s been on campus. He simply had to wait for his turn to shine. Dworacyzk played last year as the 3rd tight-end in goal line situations, and he also played as a backup at guard. I imagine he’ll transition easily into the left guard spot and be a 3-year starter for LSU. He is a guy the coaches feel will one day be an All-SEC caliber lineman.

The competition for Center will be much more open. The “plan” was for sophomore T-Bob Hebert to slide into the starter’s role at Center this season. However, Hebert is still recovering from the knee injury he suffered last season and probably won’t be 100% for spring practice. If he does practice, it likely won’t be much. So for the spring, LSU is looking to a couple of guys to step up and win the position. Sophomore Will Blackwell is probably the most likely to be the #1 Center by the end of spring. Blackwell, a former defensive lineman, is only in his second year playing offense. He’s plenty big enough at 6’4″ 298 pounds and he’s strong as a bull. His competition will come from redshirt freshman PJ Lonergan, who has reportedly been very impressive during his first year on campus. In my opinion, it would be a surprise if Lonergan beat out Blackwell, but we’ll keep a close eye on this during spring. In the fall, will a healthy T-Bob Hebert be able to unseat either Blackwell or Lonergan? I suspect not. In 2010, Hebert may take over at Center while Blackwell slides over to Guard to replace Hitt, but it’s tough to speculate things that far into the future. There’s some talk of using Hebert some as a fullback too.

As for the backups, I’ve been hearing some very good things about a couple of second year players. Offensive tackle Greg Shaw played some as a true freshman last year, and he’ll probably be the #1 backup at both left and right tackle. The coaches really like what he has shown so far. Redshirt freshman Alex Hurst has also been impressive in his first year. Probably one of the top backups at guard, the 6’6″ 330 pound lineman supposedly plays with a very mean streak. He might not be Kyle Turley, but I hear that he’s close. Also between Lonergan and Blackwell, whoever is not playing Center will be one of the top backups at guard.

Redshirt freshmen Clay Spencer and Thomas Parsons are also in the mix and will be looking to impress this spring. I’m guessing their time will come in 2010 and beyond.

In the fall, LSU welcomes 4 more offensive linemen to the mix. Of that group, offensive tackle Chris Faulk is the most likely to earn any playing time. He looks like he may be the #4 offensive tackle next year. Stavoin Lowe, Carneal Ainsworth, and Josh Williford are all probably looking at a redshirt season.

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