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LSU Spring Football Five Questions: Offensive Line

What’s in store for the returning strength of the LSU offense in spring practice?

Al Messerschmidt

Roster/Depth Chart

55 Elliot Porter (Sr.)

6-4, 300

Started 12/13 games at center.

70 La'El Collins (Sr.)

6-5, 315

Started 12/13 games in at left tackle.

65 Jerald Hawkins (Soph.)

6-6, 301

Started all 13 games - 12 at right tackle, one at left.

74 Vadal Alexander (Jr.)

6-6, 342

Started all 13 games at left guard.

69 Fehoko Fanaika (Sr.)

6-6, 348

Appeared in 12 games as a reserve guard.

75 Evan Washington (Sr.)

6-6, 334

Appeared in all 13 games with one start at right tackle.

71 Jonah Austin (Jr.)

6-6, 324

Appeared in 7 games as a reserve tackle/guard.

76 Josh Boutte (Soph.)

6-4, 333

Appeared in 8 games.

77 Ethan Pocic (Soph.)

6-7, 301

Appeared in six games and started one game at center.

72 Andy Dodd (RS-Fr.)

6-4, 322

Four-star recruit, redshirted.

63 K.J. Malone (RS-Fr.)

6-3, 290

Three-star recruit, redshirted.

(returning starters in bold)

What's Good?

You have to love this much returning experience.

Four out of five starters are back, and three backups with substantial experience (including two starts themselves). La'El Collins is the obvious headliner at left tackle, and he's likely going to garner some preseason all-conference and awards watch list attention. But he's joined by his bookend in sophomore Jerald Hawkins, senior center Elliot Porter and junior left guard Vadal Alexander.

This was a pretty solid group in 2013, arguably underrated given the prolific offense it blocked for. Collins and Alexander combined for a road-grading left side, especially with Trai Turner pulling from the right guard spot. There were some struggles in pass protection, though. Alexander was vulnerable to athletic defensive linemen and at times, confused on his assignments, as was Hawkins. Experience should help, especially with a full season of conditioning for Alexander, who missed chunks of the '13 offseason with surgery and never really seemed to get his feet under him as well as he's capable.

Behind them, senior Evan Washington, junior Jonah Austin and sophomore Ethan Pocic have all seen time at all three positions. That's a helluva lot of versatility in the top six spots, and there's still another senior to be counted in Fehoko Fanaika, who will likely compete with Washington and Austin for the open right guard spot.

What's Bad?

I don't know that I would put depth in the problem category, as there are more than enough talented bodies to fill out a two-deep, and two more four-star prospects joining the fold this summer. But they all tend to fit the same profile: the big, mauling types that fit best along the interior. Tackle depth is a wee bit thin, although Alexander and Washington have both played it and could slide outside if necessary. Pocic also played it in high school.

Of course, if it were to come to that level of reshuffling, the injury situation would be pretty dire. No offensive line ever really has as much depth as a coach would like.

What's the Goal this Spring?

For starters, LSU has got a new offensive line coach in Jeff Grimes, and he's getting his first chance to begin to mold this unit into what he wants. His background suggests that will be into a more cohesive, athletic, zone-blocking outfit.

Additionally, developing some flexibility will also be key, to deal with the aforementioned depth concerns at tackle. Guys like Alexander, Washington and Pocic have played some tackle before, but more reps to have them ready for it in a pinch would be a plus. Likewise, how players like Josh Boutte and Andy Dodd develop will add even more flexibility to the interior.

Pocic is kind of a wildcard. He played center last season largely so that the coaches could throw him into the deep end of the pool in terms of assignments. Centers have to know every single one on the offensive line, so, in theory, Pocic could possibly play any spot on the line.

Which brings me to the final point of emphasis...

What Am I Watching For?

By now, LSU knows what it has from guys like Collins and Porter. For them, this spring is about fitting to their new coach and claiming some ownership of this team as seniors.

My eyes will be on the second-, third- and fourth-year players that will be filling out the rest of the depth chart. Hawkins is a big dancing bear that has some next-level potential. He showed that several times last year, but needs to be more consistent, particularly in the area of mental mistakes like missed assignments and penalties. Alexander is a mauling run blocker that could stand to get a little leaner. Austin was good enough to get on the field as an extra tackle/tight end in short-yardage/goalline situations. Is he good enough to take a starting spot?

And then there's the question of whether a host of very talented youngsters will take over the one open starting position, or whether seniors like Washington and Fanaika will hold serve. Players like Austin, Pocic, Boutte and Dodd will be key components of the 2015 offensive line, and that development begins this spring. Will Pocic continue to backup Porter or move outside? Dodd and K.J. Malone were both believed to be center prospects, but some think their futures will be at guard and tackle.

How these players fill out the rest of the two-deep will be the biggest story of this spring for the Tiger offensive line.