Tigers poised for second scrimmage

Dworaczyk takes a spin at right tackle; two young DTs are gaining confidence.

While the latest LSU football soap opera plays out around them, the other Tigers are set for the second and perhaps most important scrimmage of pre-season camp, which is set for 4 p.m. Thursday.

LSU coach Les Miles ran his team through a long scrimmage five days ago and then had the first-teamers go head-to-head earlier this week for an abbreviated full-speed test.

Thursday's scrimmage is likely to be the final time the coaches move players in and out of the first, second and third teams to see who fits where. The final scrimmage will be more for solidifying roles than determining them.

The primary starting jobs still up for grabs are at left guard where sixth-year senior Josh Dworaczyk and sophomore La'el Collins are vying for the nod and in the secondary, where two major holes opened suddenly last week with Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal.

Jalen Collins

Redshirt freshman Jalen Collins and true freshman Jalen Mills are the leading candidates to take over as the starting cornerback for Mathieu opposite Tharold Simon. The extra defensive back spot when the Tigers go to nickel, dime or 4-2-5 looks is an ongoing audition with Micah Eugene, Ronald Martin, Collins, Mills and Dwayne Thomas are likely to get a look.

Eugene and Martin are also poised to jump in at strong safety if Craig Loston encounters any setbacks injury-wise.

Another player to keep an eye on is strongside linebacker Tahj Jones, who is fast enough to stay on the field in passing situations and help in pass coverage.

The scrimmage could also bring into clearer focus the running back rotation, at least to start the season. Five players are vying for carries and in the first scrimmage, freshman Jeremy Hill got the most attempts and led the team with 71 yards.

Man of many positions
Dworaczyk got an extended look at right tackle in the last scrimmage with starters Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst both on the shelf with ankle injuries.

There was a comfort level for the most veteran players on the roster and that's good news for the LSU offensive line because should Collins claim the starting left guard spot, Dworaczyk would be the roving sixth man.

"Playing tackle was something I did in 2008-09 when I was the second-string left tackle behind Ciron Black," said Dworaczyk, who got on the field guard almost exclusively at guard those two seasons and started at left guard in 2010. "I'm comfortable with it. I always felt like my body build projected me more to be a tackle. At same time, I've spent a lot of time at guard, so I know that position very well."

There is a difference, Dworaczyk said, in preparing for defensive tackles and nose guards compared to defensive ends and linebackers – and occasional blitzing defensive backs – that tackles have to go head-to-head with.

"Our defensive tackles get off the ball really well, but they're still just a tad bit slower than Sam Montgomery and (Barkevious) Mingo and Lavar (Edwards)," Dworaczyk said. "Being out there by yourself, the protections turn away and you wind up being out there by yourself. It's one-on-one, who-wants-it-more football.

Josh Williford

"Getting to see the big uglies doesn't prepare you as much for the speed you see when you're at tackle. Being out there on the island prepares me for going back inside for sure."

Nothing could prepare Dworaczyk for a new experience he has gotten working on the right side.

At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, Dworaczyk rarely feels small on the football field or anywhere else.

Standing next to starting right guard Josh Williford – 6-7, 332-pound Josh Williford – changed that.

"I stand next to him and he's huge," Dworaczyk said. "It's fun to play next to him, especially on double teams. He just road-grades people."

A Freak and an Ego

The LSU defensive line isn't short on nicknames or talent. Two big sophomores figure to play a major role on the interior fill both descriptions well.

Anthony Johnson

"I think I'm playing a lot better," said Anthony ‘Freak' Johnson. "We're pushing toward being the No. 1 d-line in the country."

Should that happen – and there are a lot of indications the Tigers are headed down that path – Johnson will play a major role.

The former No. 1-ranked DT got a taste for college football last season with 12 tackles and a sack in a backup role. Now he could wind up starting next to Bennie Logan as part of the four-man rotation LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley will rely on.

Johnson has trimmed his playing weight to 304, down 20-25 pounds form last season and has regained some of the explosiveness that defined him during his stellar prep career at O. Perry Walker.

"I've got great get-off and I'm not going to stop on the play," Johnson said. "I'm light on my feet and I'm able to get to the ball more."

It's not a coincidence that Ego Ferguson says nearly the same things about himself as Johnson.

The two highly touted young tackles have grown close off the field and that's helped as they've moved into more prominent roles.

Ego Ferguson

"My aggressiveness – my get-off has gotten a lot better," Ferguson said. "I took some pointers from Freak and I watched the older guys last year and learned how to read blocks and play them better."

Ferguson has a different transition to make than Johnson.

As a prep star in Maryland and then at Hargrave Military Academy, Ferguson was a defensive end. He has gradually bulked up to his current 308 pounds.

"That's a man's game down in there," he said of playing inside. "You've got to be aggressive and be a man because you've got 300 pounds across you on every play."

It's been more than physical adjustment for Ferguson.

While defensive ends are more of a glamour position – Ferguson piled up 26 sacks in his final two high school seasons – playing defensive tackle means more grunt work. That sometimes means occupying two blockers and having no direct part of the play's result.

"As a defensive tackle, you have to make that sacrifice sometimes," he said. "You take on double teams and help the linebacker make a play or you hit the tackle and help somebody come off the edge and make a play. I'm good with that, though, because it's all about whatever helps the team the most."

Wherever help is needed
Martin is one of the young LSU DBs who might be best equipped to move between cornerback, safety or the nickel/dime back.

Similar to former Tigers standout Brandon Taylor, Martin has played both spots in the secondary and is built (6-1, 202) to operate at both.

Ronald Martin

"Whatever the coaches need me, I'm just trying to work hard to get out there and contribute to the team," said Martin, a former quarterback and basketball star at White Castle. "I played corner in high school for a few years and then moved to safety when I got older.

"I still do a lot of cornerback drills to help me as a safety."

Marin also typifies the frame of mind that the young crew of LSU defensive backs has maintained in the week since Mathieu was released.

Instead of trying to be the one player who steps in and replaces the 2011 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, there has been a committee approach.

"We all know we have to come in and contribute some kind of way," Martin said.

What Martin brings is physicality and speed, he said.

And although he is suddenly one of the older reserves in the secondary – after starting free safety Eric Reid, Loston and Simon, Rocky Duplessis is the only player in the defensive back group who is not a freshman or sophomore – Martin says he balances his roles as a student and a teacher.

"Every little tip I can take from those (older) guys, I ask each and every day," he said. "The young guys ask me questions, too, so we're doing whatever we can to help each other."

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