Few expected LSU to have a freshman starting on its offensive line by season's end — much less two.
But Trai Turner and Vadal Alexander exceeded expectations in 2012 and solidified a line that struggled for the first half of the year. With those two likely anchoring the right side for years to come, LSU fans have reasons to be optimistic for the future of LSU's front five.
Add in the returns from injury of Chris Faulk and Josh Williford, and LSU will have six linemen in 2013 with starting experience (projected center Elliott Porter started one game in 2012 in place of an injured PJ Lonergan).
"I believe it puts us at an advantage because when you have six experienced starters, they all know the speed of the game," Turner said. "If somebody goes down, somebody else can get in there, and it's not like they're just fresh legs. They've been through that experience. They know how it is. They know how to react."
Though impossible to peg one player as the difference in fixing a slumping offensive line, Turner's entrance into the starting lineup came at the time things started turning around. Turner replaced Williford midway through the Florida game after he suffered a concussion that kept him out the remainder of the regular season.
Following that abysmal offensive performance against the Gators — in which LSU ran for just 42 yards — the Tigers eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark in consecutive games against South Carolina and Texas A&M. That renewed confidence in the trenches led to the passing game's ability to flourish as well.
Starting against Alabama, LSU threw for more than 200 yards in each of the season's final four games, something the Tigers had only done twice in 2012, against Idaho and Towson.
Turner wouldn't take any credit for being a lynchpin in the success, but said it came from the line's ability to come together.
"It was all our mentality," Turner said." Once everybody had the same mindset, it started to click for us. All it took was one game for us to click….We became one."
Not only did the offensive line as a whole transform throughout the season, but so did Turner. He looked back to the Florida game, when he felt nerves every time he stepped on the field, and said he's grown into a more composed player.
"I'm more put together, more calm, not too antsy," Turner said. "I don't really get those jitters I got on each series. That Florida game, I got jitters on each series. I'm not too worried about messing up because I'm confident."
With the team in the midst of Chick-fil-A Bowl preparation, Turner said he isn't prepared to reflect on the achievement of exceeding as a freshman offensive lineman in the Southeastern Conference. Neither he nor Alexander have anything on their minds except the future.
"It's crazy," Turner said. "We try not to think about it too much. We just go with the flow. Me and Vadal are just chill people. I'd say we take it one day at a time, but when you break it down, it's a few hours at a time."
And that time for reflection probably won't come any time soon.
"Maybe when we're 50 and we meet up again," Turner said. "But right now, we can't think about it. I just have to live in the moment. I can't think about the past because I haven't done much yet."
Turner, Alexander reason for optimism
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