It's the dawning of a new era on the offensive line for LSU this season. Les Miles found a new home for seven-year veteran OL coach Greg Studrawa and replaced him with former Virginia Tech off. line coach Jeff Grimes. Like most new coaches, the players have sung his praises throughout the Spring, declaring his emphasis on detail and technical focus. Let's not forget that similarly high praises were sung for the Billy Gonzales hiring, which ddin't really pay dividends.
That said, Grimes brings a lengthier résumé, including a track record of being a super recruiter. Hell, just take a peak at Auburn's current line, the one we deemed the best in the conference, and you can see Grimes' fingerprints all over it. Stylistically, history suggests Grimes will shift away from big, plodding power blockers in lieu of your leaner, more athletic zone blocking specialists. It should be interesting to see if that holds true under Miles and Cameron.
Grimes' will enter the 2014 season with a veteran offensive line, sure to invite praise from the LSU proletariat. But what can he do going forward? Jevonte Domond may be the start.
The lack of offensive tackle prospects stood out as one of the few disappointing aspects of February 5th's National Signing Day. LSU signed two elite guard prospects in Will Clapp and Garrett Brumfield. Yet, they didn't secure a signature from a single tackle, not even a project body. Cameron Robinson's decision to head to Bama is well noted, but LSU also struck out on Derrick Kelly Jr., a late-blooming prospect who expressed major interest at the end of the cycle. While the immediate need for depth isn't pressing, LSU will replace at least three and possibly five offensive-line starters in the 2015 season. Since it generally takes at least a year for most linemen to become acclimated to the college level, it's not unreasonable to be disappointed when LSU isn't able to find additional depth.
Three months later, LSU may have found their answer. Much like the Colin Jeter situation, the LSU coaches got busy on the recruiting trail, searching for alternatives at the tackle position. Sure, they had secured the commitment of 2015 prospect Maea Teuhema, but as noted above, it's hard to count on a true freshman for immediate depth. Finding a player that would qualify as a member of the 2014 signing class, after national signing day, is typically an impossible venture.
When the news broke of Domond's commitment, I remained skeptical. My assumption was that he'd be a member of the 2015 signing class, entering as Junior expected to compete for a starting role. The tape proved so raw, I didn't feel confident in a player with only a few months (at most) experience being considered a starting-caliber player. As the story unfolded, it became clear that Domond would actually be already qualified and counting toward the 2014 signing class. It's a move that doesn't occur regularly in college football.
LSU's track record of pumping guys into the NFL intrigued Domond. His growing offer list featured Florida, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin among others. Domond played only one season of HS football, and played hockey growing up as a kid. I wouldn't expect anything less from a highly unusual prospect.
Domond has no composite rating on 247, likely because he would have been evaluated as a member of the 2015 signing class but signed in 2014.
Tale of the Tape
I can't find any testing times on Domond, but he fits the long and lean profile I'd expect Grimes to regularly pursue. Domond will arrive with SEC-ready size, though he's not nearly ready to play technique-wise. The fact that he's so raw on the field should tell you all you need to know about his athletic abilities.
Domond's athletic ability stands out, but does that translate onto the field?
Strengths: Length, Athleticism
Weaknesses: Technique, Point of Attack
Length: Domond's size immediately stands out on tape. He looks every bit of that 6'6" with impressively long arms. Easy a tackles build, perhaps even for the left side. When he gets his arms extended, defenders simply can't get into his body, which is ideal for blocking on the edges. I can't wait to see this guy lined up next to the other OL during Fall camp. At 1:33 you can see his length in pass pro. Uses his long arms to keep defenders at bay and moves his feet to keep a good base.
Athleticism: I don't know what Domond's testing times are, but he's exceptionally light on his feet on tape. If Grimes/Cameron really do shift to an even heavier dosage of zone blocking, Domond looks like an ideal fit for the scheme. Big guys like this generally don't move so easily. Look at :49 and see how quickly he gets out of his stance. He looks fluid and comfortable with the slide step. At 1:11 the OLB tries what looks like some type of a speed rush move, but is completely stalled by Domond's quick feet and long arms. 1:25 again, you see how well he moves. He's not particularly powerful at the point of attack, but he's athletic enough to get out there and get his body in the way, which proves successful. There is some power to his game, at 2:20 he gets a good drive block. 2:50 again, fluidity and movement skills uncommon for a guy his size. Finally at 3:03, he's smooth getting out into space.
Technique: He's very, very raw. It makes sense, considering he's played all of about 15 football games in his career. You see the athletic tools and he does some things pretty naturally well, like move his feet in pass protection, but he's also a pretty subpar run blocker at this point. He doesn't generate a ton of power. He goes to cut blocks a lot, which may be what he's asked to do. That'll be something Grimes will change.
Point of Attack: He's big and long, but needs to get stronger. He says he likes to run block, so I don't think this is a guy that shies from contact, he just needs to learn how to use his big frame to push people around. He's played so little football that it's not all that shocking that he wouldn't know how to throw around his mass at this point.
The prospect of Domond showing up next season with three years to play two seemed far less promising to me than how it worked out. Next year we will need immediate contributors along the offensive line and Domond coming to LSU, even in the Spring, would mean he'd only receive a few months of LSU-level coaching and training before theoretically being asked to start. And that's the best case scenario.
Rather, we get Domond on campus in a year where he simply will not need to contribute, likely not even as a backup. He can take a redshirt, get bigger and stronger and most importantly, fix his technique. By Spring of 2015 he'll be in much better position to seize a starting position. That's excellent timing.
I do think Domond has SEC starter level athletic talent. Hell, he looks like he has NFL-level athletic talent. Key thing will be refining all those raw athletic tools into quality football production. Can he learn how to fire out of his stance lower? Can he get stronger and nastier at the point of attack? Can he handle better athletes and rushers on the outside? He's new to this whole football thing, so how seriously does he take it? He seems to see a path to the NFL as an attractive option, but is he willing to put in the work to achieve that? That's a question for every prospect, but even more so one that didn't grow up in a football culture, having lived and breathed this stuff for the past decade plus of his life.
This fall is gut check time for Domond. If he gets all he can from it, he could be one of your starting tackles in 2015.
High End: All SEC offensive lineman, draft pick.
Low End: Transfer out or lightly used depth.
Realistic: Eventual starter in 2016 or 2017.