LSU Football 2013 Position Previews -- Optimistic/Pessimistic/Realistic: Offensive Line

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

We start our run through of the 2013 LSU Tigers position by position with the one that always sets the tone for the offense -- the line.

For all the talk of new offense and an improved passing game (again), there should be no doubt that everything is going to start up front for the Tigers as long as Les Miles is in charge. And truthfully, this offensive line is one of the biggest reasons for optimism this season, Cam Cameron or no Cam Cameron.

Last season was a trial by fire. Four starters down at different points in the season, and while there were undoubtedly some struggles, iron sharpened iron for first- and second-year players like Trai Turner, Vadal Alexander and La'El Collins. The result was an interesting offseason full of reshuffling out of luxury, rather than need. Greg Studrawa is back as a full-time offensive line coach. Collins has slimmed down and slid out to left tackle (where he was a high-school All American) and again, new talent has infused the depth chart.

As an aside, last season should've taught a lesson regarding the relative and abstract nature of depth when it comes to the offensive line. No position depends more on continuity and chemistry than the offensive line. Five starters have to know how to fit together like a puzzle to cover for each other's weaknesses. The idea of having four- and five-star recruits backing up your starters is great, but this isn't a position you can just plug newbies into on the fly.

Which is part of why some of the reshuffling we've seen this offseason is so refreshing. Working both veterans and newcomers at multiple positions will help make sure that there's a strong group of seven or eight linemen that can step in without too many hiccups. But remember -- everything is just theoretical until the injury bug strikes.

In fact, LSU is already down one returning starter with the news of Josh Williford's concussion last week, which could very well be a career-ender. He projected as the first sub off of the bench for a couple of spots, aka the T-Bob Hebert Memorial Swingman Position, but without him it shuffles the two deep slightly.

Roster (Name/Ht.,Wt./2012 Season)

55 Elliot Porter (Jr.)*


6-4, 300


Appeared in 10 games with 1 start.

56 Trai Turner (So.)*


6-3, 316


Played in 12 games and started 7 at right guard.

63 K.J. Malone (Fr.)

6-3, 290

Three-star recruit.

65 Jerald Hawkins (RS-Fr.)


6-6, 301


Redshirted.

66 Derek Edinburgh (RS-Fr.)

6-8, 333

Redshirted

69 Fehoko Fanaika (Jr.)

6-6, 348

Junior college transfer.

70 La’El Collins (Jr.)*


6-5, 315


Started all 13 games in 2012 at left guard.

71 Jonah Austin (So.)

6-6, 324

No game action in 2012.

72 Andy Dodd (Fr.)

6-4, 322

Four-star recruit.

74 Josh Williford (Sr.)*

6-7, 332

Injuries limited to 6 games (started all).

75 Evan Washington (Jr.)

6-6, 334

Suspended for 2012 season.

76 Josh Boutte (Fr.)

6-4, 333

Four-star recruit.

77 Ethan Pocic (Fr.)

6-7, 301

Five-star recruit.

78 Vadal Alexander (So.)*


6-6, 342


Played in all 13 games and started 9 at right tackle. Freshman All-America and All-SEC.

*Indicates returning starting experience. BOLD indicates expected starter in 2013.

Your starting lineup, for now, appears to be Collins at left tackle, Alexander at guard, Elliot Porter at center, Trai Turner at guard and Jerald Hawkins at tackle.

Collins was pretty damn dominant as a left guard last season; a mean, nasty run blocker with nimble feet on pulls, zone blocking and situations that called for him to hit a moving target. He struggled a bit with consistency and pass-protection at times, but in the offseason he dedicated himself, requested the move outside and shed about 15-20 pounds. He looks to be in the best shape of his career. His bookend partner will be Hawkins, who drew rave reviews in the offseason, to the point that when he couldn't beat Collins out for the left tackle spot, he was shuffled over to the right side to get him on the field. That's saying something, when you consider that LSU's right tackle was a freshman All-American last year. He's a tall, lean player that looks incredibly light on his feet for a 300-pounder.

The single most underrated player on this line, however, is right guard Trai Turner. Thrown into the Gator pit, almost literally, he struggled at first, but quickly rounded into form as a stud run blocker. He's an athletic puller with quick feet and a bad attitude, paving the way for several of Jeremy Hill's bigger runs in the second half of the season. He deserves a lot more preseason love than he's got, and in my opinion he's probably the second-best pro prospect on this line after Collins.

He'll be paired with the line's biggest body in left guard Vadal Alexander. He stepped in at right tackle and did a great job against the run, earning freshman All-SEC and All-American honors. But had some issues in pass pro, most noticeably in the Peach Bowl. The move to guard (where he also played in high school) should make for one hell of a left side, perhaps the best LSU has had since the tandem of Ciron Black and Herman Johnson in 2007.

In the middle is where things get interesting. Porter takes over for longtime stalwart P.J. Lonergan. He likely has a little more athleticism than Lonergan, but sacrifices the bulk and experience that Lonergan had. P.J. was one tough SOB. He played hurt and knew the line calls better than anybody. But Porter hasn't exactly lit it up this offseason, and there's been speculation that true freshman Ethan Pocic may take his job before the season ends.

Pocic's move to center as an early enrollee was a curious one, given that he was recruited as a tackle, and looks like he could be a pretty damn good one. Depth was an obvious need, as Porter was the only scholarship center on the team this spring, but my main theory is that it was something of a "OL boot camp" for Pocic. That is to say, throw him in the deep end of a position he's never played before and make him prepare for it, so that he could be in even better shape to step in at guard or tackle in case of injury. But aside from some difficulties snapping the ball, Pocic appears to have made some huge strides at the spot this offseason. His long-term future might not be there, but he could very well wind up with the job by the end of the season. Also curious, is that fellow freshman Andy Dodd, whom many projected as a center, appears to have cracked the two-deep at tackle for the moment.

The rest of the depth chart includes junior college transfer Fehoko Fanaika, sophomore Jonah Austin, and junior Evan Washington along with Pocic and Dodd. Fanaika struggled with his weight in the spring, but settled in over the summer and slimmed down. He'll provide another big body for the interior in case of injury. Austin has the potential to move into the starting lineup in the future. Washington's a big body with experience in the system. I'm reluctant to speculate on the positions too much, because I imagine that in case of injury there could be quite a lot of reshuffling.

Optimistic

It's not as crazy as some might think for this group to be the best in the country. When you watch this group at practice you see perhaps the biggest overall group LSU's ever had. You have athletic bookend tackles, mauling run-blockers at guard and a center that's been in LSU's system for some time now. Collins makes a run at All-American and possibly become a very high NFL draft pick after this year, Turner and Alexander are as nasty as they want to be, while Hawkins shows that he's set to become LSU's next great tackle in the future.

Pessimistic

Center is the linchpin here. If Pocic is good enough to beat out Porter and take the job, so be it, but if that move happens because of necessity, it could throw the line's chemistry off, which could really hurt against some of the league's better defensive fronts. Collins can't afford to be inconsistent outside, and Hawkins doesn't exactly have any experience either. Never mind the problems that we all know can result from injuries.

Realistic

This will be a very, very good unit. The pieces are all there, the only question is how they fit together right now. Collins and Alexander give you size over on the left side, while Turner and Hawkins are a little more athletic on the right. Power to the left, zone to the right. The only question mark, as mentioned, is center. If Porter, or in concert with Pocic, can be serviceable in handling that job, this line won't have many weaknesses.

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