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Five Questions on LSU Spring Practice: Offensive Line


Roster Information


2011 Season

No. 72 Senior Alex Hurst

6'6, 340

Started all 14 games, named first-team All-SEC (Coaches)

76 Junior Chris Faulk

6'6, 325

14 appearances, 13 starts, named second-team All-SEC (Assoc. Press)

73 Junior Chris Davenport

6'4, 320

10 appearances, no starts

75 Sophomore Evan Washington

6'5, 326

No appearances


68 Senior Josh Dworaczyk

6'6, 301

Missed season with knee injury, received medical hardship (6th year)

79 Senior Matt Branch

6'6, 287

7 appearances, no starts

74 Junior Josh Williford

6'7, 324

11 appearances, 8 starts

70 Sophomore La'El Collins

6'5, 320

7 appearances, no starts, named Freshman All-American (

78 Freshman Vadal Alexander

6'6, 315

Class AA All-State selection at Buford (Ga.) High School


64 Senior P.J. Lonergan

6'4, 305

12 appearances, 11 starts

61 Junior Ben Domingue

6'3, 272

5 appearances, no starts

Miscellaneous OL (positions unknown/undetermined):

55 Sophomore Elliot Porter

6'4, 278

Redshirted (Transfer from Kentucky)

71 Freshman Jonah Austin

6'6, 322


56 Freshman Trai Turner

6'2, 332


67 Freshman Corey White

6'3, 328


Should we be excited?

Well, nominally three starters are back on the LSU offensive line, and you could argue that the number's really five when you consider that Josh Williford started eight games last season and that Josh Dworaczyk (I no longer have to look up how to spell his last name and this scares me) had a streak of 23 consecutive starts before an injury knocked him out last August. And the top backup was a five-star left tackle recruit in 2011 that most fans are begging to get on the field.

He never seems to quite get the respect he deserves, but Greg Studrawa really has turned around a unit that had gotten brutally thin (in both numbers and weight) a few years back after a ton of attrition. LSU has 14 scholarship offensive linemen on hand this spring, including four freshmen (1 true and 3 redshirts) north of the 300-pound mark and highly recruited.

It's a horse race with the running backs, defensive backs and defensive linemen, but you could make an argument that LSU's offensive line may actually be the deepest unit on the team in 2012. This is the part where we dance!



So what's the starting five look like?

Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst have the tackle positions locked down.

Faulk completely exceeded expectations in his first year as a starter, dominating in the running game and holding his own against the better pass-rushers on LSU's schedule. His future looks incredibly bright. His bookend Hurst has struggled with some of the better pass-rushers he's faced, but is an outstanding run blocker and has improved each year. He also projects as one of the top senior prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft (though my guess is he winds up as a guard at the next level).

At center, P.J. Lonergan is back for his third year in the starting lineup, and he's developed into somewhat of a pace-setter for the team. As Lonergan went, so did the Tiger rushing attack in 2011, with huge days in some of the more dominating performances (Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas). But he also struggled against some of the better defensive tackles on the schedule, and with injuries. With a little more consistency, he could be an all-conference performer.

As previously mentioned, two starting guards are gone but the first two names up to replace them are hardly rookies. Williford is massive, and by the end of last season had more or less taken the right guard spot away from T-Bob Hebert, starting the last four games. Dworaczyk was one of the team's most consistent linemen prior to August of 2011 when it was announced he would be missing the season with torn knee ligaments, but even on the sidelines he played a valuable role as a de facto line coach. With Stud forced up into the booth to take over the offensive coordinator duties (due to Steve Kragthorpe's unexpected illness), Dworaczyk donned a headset and did an excellent job of relaying instructions and adjustments. Typically, when an offensive line coach winds up moving upstairs, sideline coaching is one of the first areas that takes a hit, so Dworaczyk's value really can't be overstated in this regard. Honestly, even if he still can't play significant minutes in 2012 (and there's been speculation that the knee injury is actually more significant than originally believed -- possibly a bone-on-bone situation) it's still worth it to have Dworaczyk on the sidelines.

If he is limited, look for La'El Collins to take the starting LG spot (and even if Dworaczyk plays, Collins will likely be the first sub in). A former five-star prospect, Collins has found himself a little behind at his preferred left tackle position, but should find an immediate home inside. Nobody doubts that he has the talent to step in and play very well at whatever position he finds himself at.

What's the goal for this unit in spring practice?

The top six linemen on this team seem to be relatively established, but from there things are a little murky. The numbers are certainly there, as well as the talent. But how it would line up is not exactly clear.

Outside, the top backups appear to be Chris Davenport and Evan Washington, but the former is a failed converted defensive tackle and the latter has been struggling with injuries since he arrived on campus. I will say, Davenport looked fairly solid last spring, but would Collins play at tackle first if there was an injury? And then there are the freshmen, Vadal Alexander, Trai Turner, Jonah Austin and Corey White. At the moment, the latter three don't have official positions. One would think that they'll wind up at guards (Matt Branch isn't likely to get any meaningful snaps), but Austin certainly has a tackle's build. It's been reported that Alexander has already moved to the backup LT position. He definitely has more of that tall, long-armed tackle's build (and a lot of high school teams will play their best linemen at guard if their scheme calls for a lot of pulling and trapping), so one wonders if that's legit or more of a way to accelerate his grooming. It also has to make one wonder what this says about Washington's chances of sticking around.

And there's still the matter of center. With Lonergan's injury history, and no T-Bob Hebert around anymore, a true backup is needed. Walk-on Ben Domingue was listed as the No. 3 behind Lonergan and Hebert last season, but I doubt that he's the next up. Word is Elliot Porter has been working there, and some projected White or Turner there as well.

All this makes for a lot of questions, but they're good ones to have. The pieces are there; this spring is about moving them into place and creating the picture of the 2012 two-deep.

This all seems too good to be true. Is it?

Make no mistake; no coach ever has enough depth on their offensive line. It's a very relative term. One of the biggest cliché "ifs" you hear every offseason at every booster club gathering is "if we don't have too many injuries up front." Stud and Co. like this group of linemen, and certainly like having options. But they key is that they stay options, and don't turn into necessities.

LSU has the bodies, and they have the talent, but it's one thing for guys like Collins, Austin, Washington or Alexander to be backups. They provide great depth, but it isn't experienced depth. The coaching staff will be looking to continue to develop them and prepare them to play, but they don't want their hands forced. Injuries must be avoided. In fact, watch in the coming weeks for a decision from junior college lineman Fehoko Fanaika, a 6-5, 340-pounder that will graduate this spring and be eligible to enroll this summer with three years of eligibility. It's not so much that LSU needs Fanaika now the way they would a typical JUCO player, but having another big body with a little more experience would be nice, in case of injuries.

Who/what is the X-Factor?

Injuries are always the ultimate X-factor for offensive lines in spring football. If a freshman winds up cracking your starting lineup, or even your two-deep because he's just that damn good, ecstatic. If he's there because somebody got hurt, the offensive line coach is probably chugging some pepto.