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LSU 2014 Position Previews: Offensive Line

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Starting off our previews of the 2014 Tigers position by position with the offense's clear returning strength: the offensive line.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Depth Chart

Name

Height/Weight

2013 Season

55 Elliot Porter (Sr.)

6-4, 297

Started 12/13 games at center.

70 La'El Collins (Sr.)

6-5, 321

Started 12/13 games in at left tackle.

65 Jerald Hawkins (Soph.)

6-6, 309

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

74 Vadal Alexander (Jr.)

6-6, 340

Started all 13 games at left guard.

69 Fehoko Fanaika (Sr.)

6-6, 330

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, 330

Appeared in 7 games as a reserve tackle/guard.

76 Josh Boutte (Soph.)

6-5, 340

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, 336

Four-star recruit, redshirted.

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

6-3, 289

Three-star recruit, redshirted.

64 William Clapp (Fr.)

6-5, 295

Four-star recruit.

78 Garrett Brumfield (Fr.)

6-4, 309

Four-star recruit.

67 Jevonte Domond (Soph.)

6-6, 310

Played at Glendale Community College.

Ed.Note: Bold indicates returning starter.

Who's Returning?

Four starters, plus another four backups that saw some significant playing time in 2013. The headliner, of course, is senior left tackle La'el Collins. He had the potential to get picked somewhere in the first three rounds of last spring's NFL Draft, but he took a chance on himself and the program in coming back for his senior season. He'll have a chance to not only be the rock of this unit, but also improve his pro stock and show that he has the ability to man that lucrative blindside spot in the NFL (his previous draft evaluations have mentioned right tackle or guard).

Early returns look promising. Collins appears to have reshaped his body a little bit, adding some upper-body mass while slimming down in an effort to get quicker and more athletic. He's always been a fantastic drive-blocker versus the run, but he could stand to get a little quicker in pass pro.

Collins and junior left guard Vadal Alexander have the potential to form the best offensive left side LSU's had since the Ciron Black-Herman Johnson combo in 2007. The latter came in like a house of fire at right tackle as a freshman, but some offseason surgeries robbed him of conditioning time as a sophomore. The result was that he looked a step slower in the passing game, and occasionally missed assignments. But he's still a big, strong run blocker and with a full offseason under his belt, expect a breakout season. Alexander has looked noticeably leaner in videos and offseason pictures (I found his updated weight to be a bit surprising really), which should help his agility and help him get to the next level a bit better on pulls and zone blocks.

Bookend right tackle Jerald Hawkins seems poised to join his classmate in the breakout/high draft pick club. A high school defensive lineman, Hawkins redshirted and quickly asserted himself into the starting lineup last season. He has it all in terms of size, strength and athleticism, but he struggled a little bit with assignments from time to time, occasionally looking lost against the more complex fronts on LSU's schedule. But with another year of work under his belt, the sky is the limit, and it would not surprise me at all if he's making a decision about staying or going in a few months.

At center, senior Elliot Porter returns after starting every regular season game of 2013. He was a little uneven at times, struggling against the bigger tackles on the schedule -- particularly heads-up nose tackles in the one-technique position. Still, he provides veteran leadership and a steady hand.

Other returnees include seniors Hoko Fanaika and Evan Washington, competing for the starting right guard spot (more on that later). They're joined by junior Jonah Austin and sophomore Ethan Pocic, who have each worked at multiple positions on the line. Pocic in particular projects as the unit's sixth man, aka the T-Bob Hebert Memorial Swingman position, capable of subbing in at any particular position as needed. He may even push Porter for the center position. Sophomore Josh Boutte also saw some time last year as well, and will likely work at a few spots in preparation for a starting gig in 2015.

N00bs?

The headliner here is new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, who replaces the departed Greg Studrawa. Grimes comes in from Virginia Tech after a stint with Auburn, and has a reputation as a technician, particularly in the area of zone-blocking. Thus far, he's made some nice moves on the recruiting trail, and seems to be making more of an effort to slim down his unit, favoring leaner, more agile big men that can move as opposed to the big hogs under Stud.

This is one of the deepest areas of LSU's team for 2014. But after that, it gets a little hairy. This group could lose every single starter after the season. Offensive line will be a big priority for LSU in this recruiting cycle to bolster a young group of backups.

There are four freshmen dotting the above chart, redshirts Andy Dodd and K.J. Malone and high-schoolers Will Clapp and Garrett Brumfield. Additionally, Grimes found a raw junior-college talent in Jevonte Domond, also discovering that he could graduate from said JUCO and get in to campus even faster, providing some emergency depth for this year, and getting him on the path to earning a starting gig in '15.

Where's the Competition?

The spotlight is squarely on the right guard spot. Washington and Fanaika are the first two names, with Pocic and Boutte possibly working in as well. Washington is a veteran that has played a couple of spots on the line, and could also sub in at tackle if some reshuffling were needed. Fanaika is a former JUCO recruit that kind of kicked off LSU's recent run of Pacific Islander recruits. The big Tongan struggled with some weight issues in his first year, but has been credited by Tommy Moffitt in some interviews as really transforming his body this offseason. He seems a safe pick to take the starting gig but don't count out Pocic as a surprise starter.

And What's the Bottom Line?

This unit should not only be the strength of the Tigers in 2014, it should be the best offensive line of the Les Miles Era. There's size, experience, athleticism -- everything you could want out of an offensive line. Grimes offers an interesting wild card to the mix, but if his reputation is warranted, this offensive line should be more well-rounded and be ready to set the pace for LSU's offense in the coming months.