Actually, training camp kind of sucks for actual football players, but the upside is it means the season's getting close. Which means it's time for some positional previews for the Tigers. We got the band back together for a series of roundtables where we talk about what we like, what we love, and what we're worried about for the 2011 season.
Billy: We'll get things started with the offensive line. Four starters back, and another three or four backups with starting or expensive playing experience. I say it's the clear strength of the offense, what say you?
Projected Depth Chart:
LT: 76 Sophomore Chris Faulk - 6'6, 325
78 Sophomore La'El Collins - 6'4, 320
LG: 68 Senior Josh Dworaczyk - 6'6, 301
53 Senior T-Bob Hebert - 6'3, 304
C: 64 Junior P.J. Lonergan - 6'4, 305
53 Senior T-Bob Hebert - 6'3, 304
RG: 60 Senior Will Blackwell - 6'4, 290
74 Sophomore Josh Williford - 6'7, 324
RT: 72 Junior Alex Hurst - 6'6, 320
75 Senior Greg Shaw - 6'5, 295
Paul: The line will clearly be where we make our hay this year. No one wants to stake their claim on pre-season Jefferson hype again, new coordinator(s) or no. Ware looks to be the real deal but the list of backs who can achieve even without a solid line is short and distinguished. Is he that good? Maybe, but still, this isn't Mark Ingram coming back after winning the Heisman.. it's a true sophomore who has looked tremendous in spurts. I think he'll have a special year, but largely due to the experience of the bad boys up front.
We enter the fall with every job locked in. We return every starter over to LT, where Chris Faulk has worked his way to the top, and even he has quite a bit of playing experience. There's no surprises there, and all of them have played well enough that there's no real threat of a job being lost. T-Bob will continue to be a top interior back-up and for all the spite he drew after his sophomore season, he's an SEC-level starter, so that's just surplus. Miles has repeatedly mentioned big boy Josh Williford, and he looks to be another primary backup. Freshman standout La'El Collins has already worked his way to no. 2 LG, and according to reports all the hype is deserved... this kid is well on his way to being a standout.
The real battles will be at the tackle positions. I have to believe Collins will be the top back-up there, on either side. Greg Shaw is a more experienced player, but has yet to do anything to distinguish himself, and frankly, Collins is just a better player. Chris Davenport and Evan Washington will also feature heavily into this mix. Davenport has now been firmly moved to the OL (3 years too late!), and Washington still has gobs of upside. I'd expect those two to both be in the starting mix for next season. It's going to be interesting also to see what happens at Center. P.J. has another year following this one, but after T-Bob the next guy in line
is was Cameron Fordham. Or will one of the other recruits step in?
Overall, this is probably the best OL we've fielded... maybe in the Miles era when you start talking depth and quality.
Poseur: The offensive line has gone from liability to team strength. It wasn't that long ago that LSU trotted out one of the worst offensive line performances in recent SEC history. Yes, it was that bad. The line couldn't protect the quarterback, and they couldn't run block either. The sudden decline in LSU's fortunes could be directly traced to the performance of the offensive line.
The same goes for the resurgence.
I am a firm believer in the importance of line play. Given a choice between returning a stud at any position, even quarterback, or an experienced line with a proven track record of success, I will take the offensive line. You can't do anything if you can't block. A team can paper over just about any other weakness, but poor line play causes the whole offense to break down. It is that vital.
And Paul nails it. We return four starters, all of whom have performed well. On top of that, we return T-Bob Hebert, the super sub, and Chris Faulk, who has seen plenty of action. Even better, there is tons of young talent on the roster, all pushing for playing time. We have experienced vets who might lose their jobs because of the talent coming behind them. It's a wonderful problem to have, as you can never have too many linemen.
The line is the team's strength. Outside of the secondary, this is the best unit on the entire team, and I couldn't choose a better strength. This unit is going to flat out maul people. I couldn't be more excited. It all starts on the lines.
Billy: Agree on all counts. From the issues of both 2008 and 2009 we saw LSU really re-emerge with great front lines last year, and that should carry over beautifully on offense.
Four starters are back, the one new guy started two games last season and played in 11 others, and the three top backups all have at least one start on their resume in addition to multiple games played. Paul is right; this probably is the deepest and most experienced group LSU's had since Miles arrived.
Coach Stud deserves a lot of credit. He wasn't too popular circa 2009, but with hindsight he's done a great job of recovering from the massive attrition in Stacy Searels last two recruiting classes (seven offensive line recruits from the 06/07 classes left the team for various reasons). And the lumps that guys like Dworaczyk, Lonergan and Hebert took as younger starters seems to be paying off. Nevermind that he just hauled in a recruiting class with guys like La'El Collins, Jonah Austin, Trai Turner and Corey White on deck. How the depth shakes out at the backup spots should be really interesting to watch through camp.
If Spencer Ware is going to be the Genghis Kahn of this offense, the offensive line will be the horses leading his chariot into battle.
Billy: For me the big concern entering this season is consistency. As good as the line was at times, they really struggled in LSU's losses, allowing the Auburn and Arkansas lines to completely dominate them. What are your concerns entering this season?
Paul: Concerns for OL?
None, really. Hopefully they stay healthy. Josh D. was nicked up some last year, and Blackwell of course went down week 1. At least we do have depth to afford a loss or two *knocks on wood*. I continue to sing the praises of P.J. Lonergan, who I think is one of the more underrated centers in all of CFB. Turn the tape on... that kid can flat out play. He may even be our best lineman. I think Faulk will be an upgrade at LT, specifically as a run blocker, where he excels. He's nasty. Barksdale was solid, but never had that nasty mentality. Faulk does. There's really few things to worry about that I see. The experience ensures we can enter a high-octane environment without imploding (a la Georgia '04). The depth ensures we'll be okay if a player gets nicked.
I'm firmly convinced this will be the biggest, strongest, baddest group of OL we've had under Les.
Poseur: I agree. There are two units in which I have complete confidence this year: the secondary and the o-line. This team is deep, talented, and expereinced. It's pretty much everything you want out of an offensive line. I guess I should worry about a huge rash of injuries, but you can say that about any position.
Billy: Like I said before, I'd like to see some more consistency from guys like Dworaczyk and Lonergan. When they had bad games, you saw things like snaps going over Jordan Jefferson's head against Arkansas and nine tackles-for-loss allowed against Auburn. Those types of games need to even out. Its okay to struggle, but there's struggling and then there's getting dominated.
And as much as I like guys like Greg Shaw and T-Bob as backups, the thought of them starting for significant amounts of time would worry me. But then injuries on the offensive line are something every team in America had to worry about.
So if you could some up this offensive line in a song, what would it be?
Poseur: Hmmm... Something loud and aggressive. How about Fugazi's Bulldog Front?
Billy: Is that what Houston Nutt calls the Ole Miss defense?
I'll change things up a bit, and go with Eric B & Rakim's Move the Crowd.