State of the Hogs: Trench Play

LSU and Alabama imposed their will in the trenches against Arkansas this year, but the Hogs should be more experienced and more talented up front next season.

The key element in college football is quarterback play. I start there when I analyze the strengths of any team.

Decent quarterback play is always a strength for a Bobby Petrino team. That won't change in the near future with Tyler Wilson, Brandon Mitchell and Brandon Allen with plenty of eligibility left.

But if quarterback play is equal (and I know it hardly ever is), then the team with the best tackles generally wins. That's a combination of offensive and defensive tackles.

That coaching belief comes from General Bob Neyland, the legendary Tennessee coach. It's not one of his Seven Maxims that are learned by most football coaches at an early age. It's my opinion, it could be the eighth.

Neyland is famous for his detail to defense. His 1938-39 UT teams shut out 17 straight opponents. The Vols went undefeated in 1939, the last team in NCAA history to win every regular season game by shutout.

I saw great tackles (and extended line play) from LSU last week. Unfortunately, most of those fine LSU linemen should return next year.

From the offensive line, tackles Chris Faulk (sophomore) and Alex Hurst (junior) are probably coming back. Defensively, Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan are both sophomores. If you look at the two deep on both sides of the line, LSU does lose some on the offensive line. Six of the 10 are seniors although three are backups.

Defensively, five of the eight are either freshmen or sophomores and only one is a senior. The good news is the Arkansas lines are as young as the Tigers. The Hogs will lose only one of their starting tackles, strong offensive tackle Grant Freeman. Elsewhere on the lines, they lose defensive end Jake Bequette and weak guard Grant Cook. As far as backups in the rotation, the only other loss is Zach Stadther, listed third at nose tackle, but a valuable contributor.

The Hogs were no match for LSU or Alabama in the trenches, but they were pretty good down the stretch against South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi State and should improve on both sides of the ball up front next year when they could be more talented and more experienced. That last part is as important in the offensive line as anything.

As Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said after the MSU victory, "In our last three home games we have certainly been more physical and controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. When you control the line of scrimmage a lot of good things happen for you."

It may be more about what the Hogs have in the pipeline than what they had on the field as far as offensive line play. The coaches love the 2011 class that includes junior college transfers Jason Peacock and Chris Stringer and freshmen Mitch Smothers, Brey Cook, Marcus Danenhauer, Grady Ollison and Austin Beck.

I am fascinated by Ollison's move to offensive tackle. He was advertised as a can't miss defensive end, but he was just as good on the offensive line as a prep star at Malvern. He has the speed and quickness to match what LSU and Alabama are bringing off the edge at end and linebacker. He still looked like a colt, long and lean, when he made the move in August. He needs weight and strength, but his foot speed will be an asset at tackle.

Strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp, a big component on Petrino's staff, raved about the athletic ability in this line group in the summer. He called it a step up as far as frames and ability to run.

There is good young talent on the defensive front. Obviously, Ollison couldn't move to offense if there wasn't plenty. Trey Flowers got his feet wet this year and has a great future.

Horace Arkadie and Darrell Kelly-Thomas redshirted. The one notable loss from this group was end Lonnie Gosha. He went home midway through the fall.

The bottom line is that line depth should be much improved in 2012. To borrow a line from Petrino, a lot of good things should happen.

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