All this week, with LSU spring football approaching quickly on the horizon, TSD will tackle a question a day surrounding the 2013 gridiron Tigers.
Today's Question: Who's going to start at left tackle?
The flight of LSU underclassmen to the NFL this offseason was well-publicized, with the bevy of talented defensive linemen getting the majority of the headlines. It's been easy then, when projecting the 2013 version of LSU football, to spend most of the time concentrating on how Brick Haley will re-stock along the D-Line.
But it shouldn't be forgotten or understated that, after the rash of early entrants, Greg Studrawa's got a pretty big hole of his own to fill on the offensive line – at left tackle.
Chris Faulk's declaration for the NFL Draft in January came as a bit of a surprise. The rising redshirt senior in 2013 was thought of as a possible first-round pick heading into the 2012 campaign, but all that seemingly changed when the Slidell native suffered a season-ending injury to his right knee in practice between LSU's first and second games.
Staring at the possibility of another injury, Faulk, an All-SEC performer in 2011, elected to go pro.
Studrawa and the LSU staff have several options in front of them to replace Faulk. Let's list all six of them in alphabetical order to begin, and we'll eliminate players one by one.
Vadal Alexander (So., 6-6, 350)
Jonah Austin (R-So., 6-6, 329)
La'el Collins (Jr., 6-5, 321)
Jerald Hawkins (R-Fr., 6-6, 300)
Ethan Pocic (T-Fr., 6-7, 285)
Josh Williford (R-Sr., 6-7, 332)
Alexander was a crucial part of the 2012 offensive line, becoming a much-needed band aid at right tackle after Alex Hurst departed the team midseason for personal reasons. We can effectively take him off this list, however, as the rising sophomore will reprise his role as the starting right tackle in 2013. He's got tremendous size, something that never hurts on the blindside, but his relative lack of mobility makes him much better suited for right tackle than left.
Then there are the projected backups, players who aren't quite ready yet and aren't forecasted to see first-team minutes in 2013 barring injuries. Those two would be true freshman Ethan Pocic, an early enrollee with great potential (but who also just stepped on campus six weeks ago), and redshirt sophomore Jonah Austin, a likely second-string player at right tackle, backing up Alexander.
Down to three names, there's one more that's a pretty safe assumption to remove from the short list of possible starters at left tackle. That would be Josh Williford's. The fifth-year player has loads of experience, starting 19 games in his time at LSU, with all but one of them coming at right guard. The Dothan, Ala., native's season was marred by injury in 2012, as Williford suffered a concussion in the Florida game, returning only in time for the Tigers' bowl game, where he didn't play but did practice in the weeks prior to New Year's Eve.
Williford projects as a valuable backup across the offensive line in 2013, and may even get a few starts at one of the guard positions depending on how the season unfolds, but he's not a terribly good fit at left tackle.
That brings us to the only two legitimate options and answers to today's question – La'el Collins and Jerald Hawkins.
For almost two months now, since Faulk's announcement, I've been under the impression that Hawkins, a redshirt freshman who the staff has openly said is being groomed as the left tackle of the future, would be the guy.
Collins, a rising junior who started every game in 2012 at left guard, is absolutely going to start somewhere on the line in 2013, but it's been presumed that would be again at left guard. The staff has been fairly stubborn in wanting to keep Collins there, refusing to push him out to left tackle a season ago when there were multiple opportunities to do so.
That track record and history from the LSU coaches that ‘Collins fits best at left guard' suggests Hawkins is the likely first option to protect Zach Mettenberger, something we found out in 2012 is critical given the quarterback's struggles with timing when the pocket collapses and elusiveness.
But, after talking to a source this past weekend, it appears the issue is not such an open-and-closed case and that LSU's coaches may be open to the idea of pushing Collins, an All-American left tackle out of high school, back out to the position. (TSD subscribers, click on the link below for more on that subject.)
Monday's Offensive Line Tidbits
All of the above means spring practice will be that much more exciting for LSU. In one scenario, the Tigers could go with an inexperienced player at left tackle but leave the remainder of its returning line intact from 2012. In the other, the Tigers would bump an experienced junior out of left tackle and shuffle in a newcomer like Fehoko Fanaika into the mix at left guard.
Either decision will result in some new blood on the left side of the line in 2013. Look for the ultimate factor, aside from health of course, to be which lineup puts the best five players on the field.
Until that is decided in spring ball and fall camp, there is no clear-cut answer to today's question.
Schedule for pre-spring preview stories
Tuesday, February 26: Spring Preview - New names to monitor
Thursday, February 28: Spring Preview - Two-deep depth chart
Monday, March 4: Spring Question 1 – Who's going to start at left tackle?
Tuesday, March 5: Spring Question 2 – How will the new-look defensive line fare?
Wednesday, March 6: Spring Question 3 – What alignment will Chavis go with at linebacker?
Thursday, March 7: Spring Question 4 – Who will step up as leaders on this 2013 team?
Friday, March 8: Spring Question 5 – How will Cam Cameron's presence affect the offense?
Monday, March 11: Video – Offense Preview
Tuesday, March 12: Video – Defense Preview
Wednesday, March 13: Video – Early Enrollees; What to Watch: Staff Picks
Spring Question: Who starts at left tackle?
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