LSU Spring Football 2011 Position Preview: Offensive Line


The offensive line was probably the biggest focus (at least, it was to me) last spring, after one of the worst blocking performances by any Tiger front in a decade. And for the most part, Coach Greg Studrawa's charges responded well. Rushing yards and yards per carry increased, and LSU became one of the more efficient short-yardage rushing teams in the country (and even converted nine of 11 fourth-down runs), and one of the best rushing teams in teh fourth quarter as well. Even the sack rate improved. But the total offense ranking didn't (at least by much, anyway), so Stud and Co. continue to be roasted by the Humanoids, but make no mistake. The unit improved and should continue to do so after one of the best offensive line classes in school history was signed this past February.

Tackles:
72 Senior Greg Shaw - 6'5, 295, right tackle, played in 9 games with 1 start.

75 Junior Alex Hurst - 6'6, 329, right tackle, started 10 games, missed 3 to injury.

76 Sophomore Chris Faulk - 6'6, 316, left tackle, played in 11 games with 2 starts.

70 Freshman Evan Washington - 6'5,315, left tackle, redshirted in 2010.

He was an afterthought recruit, but Alex Hurst has done pretty well for himself, showing well as a backup in 2009 and cracking the lineup by the bowl game. Most thought he'd take over one of the guard spots, but Will Blackwell's development forced a move out to right tackle. He had his growing pains, particularly in pass protection, but is a strong presence in the running game and should be a solid building block for 2011.

Chris Faulk, a former high-school All-American, is the presumptive starter at left tackle, although we may see superfrosh La'El Collins push him this summer. Faulk certainly has the prototypical left-tackle build, with long arms and huge hands. He saw the field in reserve roles early on, particularly as a blocking tight end on the goal line and showed great punch, leg-drive and mobility as a run blocker (he did a fantastic job on Stevan Ridley's game- salvaging game-winning run against Tennessee). He started the final two regular season games at right tackle once Hurst went down and had some good moments against Ole Miss (he really caves in the Rebel front on Jefferson's rushing score early in the fourth), but struggled the next week against Arkansas. If he can round out his game a little more this spring, he has outstanding potential.

Greg Shaw has had one of the odder careers in recent memory. He quickly made his way to into the 2-deep as a true freshman in 2008, saw time in one game and...disappeared. He toiled on the roster over the next two years, seeing very little time until the Alabama game, coming following Hurst's injury and playing surprisingly well. But it was short-lived, as he struggled some in the next game with ULM and was benched for Faulk.

 Evan Washington redshirted in 2010, but participated in the 2010 spring drills and was said to be making a push in August before the coaches decided he'd be better off with a year of development. He's a former 4-star recruit, and should provide some solid depth at either tackle spot this fall while guys like Trai Turner, Jonah Austin and Corey White redshirt.

Guards:
68 Senior Josh Dworaczyk - 6'6, 300, left guard, started all 13 games.

60 Senior Will Blackwell - 6'4, 305, right guard, started 2 games, played in 2 more, missed 9 due to injury.

53 Senior T-Bob Hebert - 6'3, 287, guard/center, played in all 13 games, started 7.

74 Sophomore Josh Williford - 6'7, 324, right guard, played in all 13 games, started 4.

79 Junior Matt Branch - 6'6, 280, left guard, played in 11 games.

Josh Dworaczyk is probably the player most emblematic of the struggles of this unit the last few years. He wound up in a starting role probably a year before he was ready, and that resulted in some major growing pains in 2009. But he showed a lot of improvement last year. Built more like a tackle, Dworaczyk is extremely athletic for his size. He slides really quickly in zone blocking and pass protection, and can hit a moving target on pulls and screens. Most importantly, he's nasty guy that sets a tone for the line and is clearly a team leader. He still needs to add bulk, and really struggled against some of the better d-tackles on the schedule (Nick Fairly dominated him). That said, if he continues his current rate of improvement he can be an all-conference caliber player.

Blackwell has been excellent when he's been in the game. He blocked for some of the biggest runs in 2009 as a backup, and was fantastic in the Cotton Bowl. But he broke his ankle on the first play of the season, and only saw spot action in the Ole Miss and Arkansas games before returning in the postseason. Truthfully, it's a testament to his toughness that he came back at all. He's an old-fashioned mauler type, and also made a real effort to maintain a presence with the team during his rehab. He'll be one of the senior leaders on this team.

Perennial Rant whipping boy T-Bob Hebert isn't as bad a player as you probably think. He's undersized, but a smart player who actually graded out well in several games and came through on some of the clutch plays of 2010. He's the line's swing-guy, backing up at both guard spots and center. The other backup, Josh Williford was another project recruit but has developed into a strong run blocker. He needs to work on keeping up with his assignments, but he should be starting by 2012. Matt Branch is somebody that needs a strong spring with some of the new recruits coming in.

Centers:

64 Junior P.J. Lonergan - 6'4, 300, started all 13 games.

55 Freshman Cameron Fordham - 6'4, 261, greyshirted in 2010.

Center is pretty clearly the thinnest position on the line - Hebert and Blackwell would likely see the field before Cameron Fordham. Lonergan was solid and even spectacular at times last season, but when he was bad, he was REALLY bad. Auburn and Arkansas were atrocities, where he not only struggled to block but he even lost the handle on snapping the ball. That can't happen this season.

Fordham is an undersized project that played tight end in high school, but I'm in the minority that actually likes his potential. If you watched his recruiting highlights he was a vicious blocker that almost always took his man to the ground. He has a ways to go and weight to add, but I like having that quality as a starting point for a center. We'll have a better idea of what type of player he'll be next spring.

Conclusions: Faulk, Dworaczyk, Lonergan, Blackwell and Hurst figure to be the starters, and there's the luxury of some real experience in the two-deep when you look at Hebert, Shaw and Williford. In terms of competition, I don't think there will be that much until the newbies come in this summer. But I have a feeling Collins will find a way on the field in some capacity.

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