From left to right, this is probably the starting five on opening night on the offensive line. At left tackle, Ciron Black is practically an institution, having started every game the last two years despite being only a redshirt junior. At left guard, senior Herman Johnson has been starting since the middle of the 2006 season. At center. senior Brett Helms has been a full-time starter since the start of the 2006 season, and started a little at guard before that. At right guard, junior Lyle Hitt has started a full season after moving over from the defensive line. The only new starter on the group is sophomore Joseph Barksdale at right tackle.
It is still conceivable that sophomore Jarvis Jones could break into this group, but in all likelihood this is the starting offensive line for the 2008 barring injuries. It's a good one, possibly the best in the conference.
I think it is very likely that all five of the starting offensive linemen for this team will end up playing in the NFL one day. Certainly Ciron Black and Herman Johnson are locks to be early-round draft picks. Helms, as a center, may have trouble getting drafted because centers aren't in high demand on draft day, but he should catch on somewhere. Barksdale is a tremendous talent at right tackle, and I would anticipate him being very very good when he gets experience. Lyle Hitt has struggled at times, but was only a sophomore last year, and he came on strong at the end.
Every one of these guys is big. Every one of them is athletic. Almost every one of them is experienced. It is a big advantage, when your quarterback situation is questionable, to have a good and experienced offensive line to protect whoever is back there.
Last year's offensive line was a very solid bunch. The left side was very good at pass protection. The right side, with Hitt and Carnell Stewart, was really good at run-blocking but suspect at pass blocking. The center was good at everything. With Stewart replaced by Barksdale, the right side's pass protection will hopefully be shored up. Hopefully that will come without sacrificing anything in the run-blocking.
One of the keys, and this may be stating the obvious, will be to avoid penalties. It looks like LSU will be primarily a running team this year, and running teams can't afford to get behind the chains. Last year, penalties were a big problem. It's a problem that, with one more year of experience for 4 of the 5 starters, and our most prolific penalty-machine trying to catch on in the NFL now, there should hopefully be some real improvement.
Key backups will include Jarvis Jones, who may have lost the battle for the starting job to Joseph Barksdale but will get his chance at a starting spot next year, Ryan Miller, and any of several redshirt freshmen.
If you look around the division, every team has some good offensive linemen, but at this point, I wouldn't trade our offensive line for anybody else's in our division. Auburn's offensive line is also good, but not as experienced as ours. Arkansas has probably the best offensive lineman in the division in Jonathan Luigs, but overall is just sort of ho-hum. Alabama has Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell, both of whom are legitimate All-SEC candidates, but they're a patchwork unit otherwise. Ole Miss has prototype NFL tackle Michael Oher coming back for his senior, and overall has a decently strong and experienced unit, but the overall athleticism at offensive line is not as good as at LSU. Mississippi State returns a unit that was young last year, but the dismissal of Michael Brown hurts a lot.
As an LSU fan, you have to like that we have this unit protecting our inexperienced quarterbacks and busting holes open for our running backs. This may well be the single greatest strength of the team, and it's never a bad thing when the line play is your strength.