Unquestionably, the most battered unit on the 2017 roster is the offensive line. After first enduring an on onslaught of transfers, mostly unfortunately of talented swing lineman Maea Teuhema, early Fall Camp returns showed injuries and more injuries and even more injuries, leaving LSU with just 7 capable bodies, many of whom have zero playing time.
Impressions of LSU’s offensive line play in recent years vary wildly depending on the source. Pro Football Focus notably ranked LSU’s 2016 OL as the best in the nation. They stand up well in Bill Connelly’s rankings as well, ranking 5th in Adjusted LY. Yet, many fans would wax about the inability to get a push vs. both teams in Alabama. To that end, many would tell you the OL the last two seasons has “sucked.” The truth is probably somewhere in between.
At this point, it’s fair to question Jeff Grimes. What waves he’s made in inking talented players are undone when they transfer from the program before seeing the field. The maddening performances don’t help his cause. Yet, it must also be considered the restraint placed on his unit by coaching within a fractured offensive system that saw few players prosper in his four years in Baton Rouge. Ultimately, when Orgeron was hired, he had the opportunity to turn over as much or as little of the staff he preferred. Gone are Dameyune Craig and Jabbar Juluke, yet he retained Grimes. Clearly O sees value in Grimes and believes any issues were more related to the previous regime’s system than Grimes’ coaching abilities. Only time will tell if that is correct.
In 2017, Grimes must cobble together an offensive line that is one injury away from life support. It’s not a unit that lacks talent, but one that lacks adequate depth to support any mishaps that may unfold along the way. And mishaps always happen along the way.
But Austin Deculus may be just the mishap corrector that Jeff Grimes needs.
Back of the Card
247 Composite Ranking: ****
247 Composite Rating: .9772
Deculus finished in the 247 composite top 50, coming in as the 48th ranked player nationally. In an exceptionally strong recruiting season for offensive tackles, he ranked 10th overall at his position. Six of the players ranked ahead of him were 5-star players.
Deculus earned an invite to the Under Armour All-American Game. 247 named him a member of the “All Lobby Team” noting his enormous size and being the definition of barrel chested. He played LT throughout the week and made a good showing, illustrating impressive quickness for a 6’6”, 331 player. Still general consensus is that his future is on the right side of the line. Most importantly he looked like a player ready to step into the fold immediately in 2017, a major boon to LSU’s depth issues. Further improving his chances for early playing time, Deculus enrolled early and was able to take in spring practice and begin learning the offense.
On the Field
Already There: Size, Power, Block Finisher
Working On It: Technique, Pass Protection
Doesn’t Have It: LT Skills
Size: Listed at 6’6”, 324, Deculus is the size of a college senior. Size prohibits many incoming freshmen linemen from being contributors regardless of their technical skills or knowledge of the playbook. Deculus isn’t the long, lean, tackle body type. He’s built more like an interior lineman, but with length. This is a guy that’s thick throughout. His future is probably at right tackle.
Power: One thing I hate seeing is big-bodied players that don’t use their size. Deculus is not that. He’s not a finesse player, but does like to over relay on his ability to overpower opponents. The clip at :40 gives a good idea of the type of damage he can, even when playing without great leverage. 1:22 is the type of thing you want to see from a future drive blocker. It suggests he’s built to play on the interior. Not only does he have excellent pad level, he gets his hands inside and completely blasts the DE off the ball. At 4:15 he again flashes that type of powerful drive that makes you believe he’s the guy you want to run the ball behind on fourth and 1. At 4:34 you can see his power takes over even when he doesn’t have the leverage advantage. 5:55 isn’t totally fair, but still a joy to watch him wasteland a defender.
Block Finisher: Elite OL love punishing their opponents. Deculus has a nasty streak that coaches love to see. At 2:07 you can virtually see the moment when Deculus decides that guy is getting his ass put in the dirt. I can appreciate his bitch please throw off at the end of 3:32 as well.
Athletic Ability: Perhaps most impressively, Deculus moves more like someone that is 294 pounds than 324 pounds. He’s not nimble and bouncy like a pure LT, but he’s not a hapless clunker either. 2:35 really puts his move skills on display. He gets a punch on the DE but is able to peel off to get to the second level and take that defender completely out of the play, which leads to six. 3:51 is another solid example of his ability to get to the second level and pluck off defenders that should be able to run around him. 5:03 is kinda the total package of his skills. That poor, poor DE. Plays like the one at 6:15 aren’t flashy, but really show the type of athletic ability that could make him a strong interior pass defender.
Hands: Deculus really does an excellent job getting his hands on defenders and not relenting. He has big, strong hands and consistently keeps them inside the shoulders to limit holding calls. At 4:57 is but one example. This should help in pass protection at the next level. I love the aggression and hand use in 5:13, even if he overextends himself a bit.
Working on It
Technique: He’s not a technician. In some ways, that’s just not part of his game. Deculus is a brutal, nasty mauler and you take the good with the bad on that. Yes, he’ll need to improve his technical blocking skills to truly be an elite player, but he’s never going to be Marshal Yanda. With his length and strength he may not need to be a technical master to excel.
Pass Protection: This ties to the above, but there’s not a ton of him in pass pro on the reel. His feet are solid and his length should be an attribute, but he doesn’t look like he’s a natural fit at LT. On some plays, he gets overextended and his top half is hanging out over his lower half. In HS, he’s strong enough to still controls DL in this position. In college, that will be a face plant.
Doesn’t Have It
LT Skills: I could live to eat these words, but I don’t think he’s a left tackle of the future. He doesn’t look natural as that drop-back pass defender. He doesn’t have that type of bend and spring you like to see from a dominant left side guy. He could be one in a run-heavy spread attack, but not any type of pro system.
Poseur’s 80s Movie Comparison
Austin Deculus appears to be a player without an ounce of subtlety, which makes him perfect for 80s action movies. There is no subtext here, just text. And that text is “I’m going to destroy you.” Previous iterations of our offensive linemen recruits have had technique and subtlety, but that’s all been stripped away for the kick ass remake. Deculus is:
Furthermore, the offensive line needs a hit, just like Tri-Star did in 1985. The fledgling studio had released a string of critical and commercial failures like Supergirl, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, The Last Dragon (which, to be fair, is f’n awesome), and Silent Night, Deadly Night. Along came Rambo. They took all of the angsty questioning of morality and our role in Vietnam, and left that on the cutting room floor, turning Rambo into nothing but a kick ass killing machine, out for revenge on... well, everybody.
That is Austin Deculus. None of this namby-pamby feelings stuff. Or subtle technique. He is a straight out and out mauler. Give him a rocket launcher, point him in the right direction, and watch him single-handedly defeat communism. Grab the popcorn.
What the Future Holds
Deculus is a guy that I gave a couple drive-by viewings to his highlights during the process but never really spent much time on them, since he remained pretty steadfastly committed to LSU. His high ranking and that quick viewing was enough for me to feel confident in his abilities. Having really sat with his tape, he’s probably a different player than I had hoped, entirely. The size component is obvious, but in my mind I thought he had future left tackle potential.
At this point, I feel pretty confident he will never play that position for LSU, barring emergency. In fact, I’m not sure Deculus is a tackle at all. The skills I see him exhibit best on tape are characteristics of excellent guards. He’s superb in tight quarters, a mauling drive blocker and absolutely lethal once he gets his hands on you. His athleticism should allow him to be more than just a power-blocking inside guard, as he looks more than capable to be able to pull and trap. Physically, I think the tools are there for him to possibly be an elite offensive guard.
It will be interesting to see where Grimes slots him. Right now, tackle depth is a major missing piece. LSU has assorted depth throughout the interior of the line, but on the edges they are exceptionally thin, which could well push Deculus into tackle duty, at least early on in his career. Playing inside was almost fait accompli for guys like Will Clapp and Garrett Brumfield. I think Deculus has a smidgen more opportunity to play right tackle, but his best spot will eventually be offensive guard.
Deculus is a true brute on the field. He’s going to be the big, nasty guy in the bar fight that throws his weight around... and he does it well. What he lacks in technical ability, he makes up for in brutishness. Strangely, one thing I’d like to see more consistently from him is a violent punch. Trai Turner, to me, is the master sensei of the punch. If go back and watch Trai’s HS highlights, just look at how he obliterates defenders right from his punch. It’s translated up two levels, to where he’s now a Pro Bowl lineman.
I see Deculus bring that punch on some plays and others he’s more of a wrapper or grabber. Now, once he gets his hands on a defender, it’s pretty much game over. He displays hulk-like strength when engaged. I don’t foresee him losing many of those battles. Yet, if he’s not quick and aggressive enough with his hands, he’ll lose battles to quicker, athletic defensive linemen.
So I find myself wrestling with Deculus as a prospect. I entered hoping to see this dominant, overwhelming talent... and I came away feeling like I saw a pretty good mauler. So perhaps it’s just a matter of perspective. If Deculus were a three-star this review would probably be raving about what a gem we found. But then again, he’s not. He’s a top-50 talent... those are the guys you expect greatness from.
No matter my perception, he’s going to play and he’s going to play right away. I think in 2017 you’ll see him oft-used as an injury sub playing along the right side of the line. If he shows out, he could surpass someone like Garrett Brumfield who has yet to really leave his mark. But that’s not something I expect.
In the end, I still believe Deculus has all the makings of a future stud at guard; he’s just not the star left tackle I wanted him to be. And that’s okay.
High End: All-Conference Player, Draft Pick
Low End: Solid swing reserve lineman that never becomes a full-time starter
Realistic: Solid, dependable starter that excels at run blocking but struggles in the passing game