Days Till Kickoff: 6

Continuing today TSD is tackling a question a day about the LSU Tigers leading up to the team's season opener Aug. 31 against TCU. Today's Question: Can LSU's new-look offensive line gel in time for kickoff?

We're six days away from LSU football taking the field for the first time in 2013.

But before Les Miles and the Tigers invade the House that Jerry Built to battle TCU, TSD will get you ready by tackling a question a day for seven straight days surrounding the shape of LSU's team entering the Aug. 31 opener.


Saturday – Which freshmen will make an impact on defense in the opener?

Today's Question: Will the offensive line gel in time considering all the new pieces starting in new spots?

The short answer: to a certain extent, sure, but certainly not entirely.

The longer answer is a bit more complex, primarily due to all the newness. Three players along the line will start at a position for the first time on Saturday night (La'el Collins at LT, Vadal Alexander at LG and Jerald Hawkins at RT). One player will make just his second career start (C Elliott Porter, who collected a single start against Idaho in 2012). Another (Hawkins, a redshirt freshman) will step out between the lines for the first time in his collegiate career.

It's pretty telling, and at least slightly disconcerting, that the rock of the O-Line to this point is RG Trai Turner, who has a total of seven starts to his name and, maybe equally as important given all the musical chairs, is in the same spot he was when the 2012 season ended.

LSU and O-Line coach Greg Studrawa find themselves in this predicament after redshirt senior Josh Williford, earmarked as a starter at left guard, reportedly suffered another concussion during the opening week of Fall Camp. Miles has been fairly tight-lipped about Williford's absence since, but he did suggest on Friday that Williford would be out long term and may choose to focus on his academics moving forward.

The loss of Williford forced Studrawa's hand to make a move that was rumored in the summer - moving Alexander inside to left guard and making room for the athletic Hawkins at right tackle. It's a move that on paper sounds great, getting a more mobile player at tackle who can keep lightning-quick pass rushers at bay while transferring a run-blocking mauler to guard.

But there have been some understandable growing pains this August in the midst of the transition. Through two scrimmages, it was apparent the O-Line was struggling, with Anthony Johnson & Co. on defense getting the better of LSU's front five. They reportedly fared better in the third scrimmage last week, but it'll be somewhat of a wait-and-see game to know how this group will perform against actual opposition.

As Miles himself intimated Friday, this O-Line simply needs more reps together - as many as they can get. It's a fair question then to wonder if they'll get enough in the next week to play at a high level, and with crisp communication and cohesion, against TCU.

Another byproduct of the Williford loss worth exploring is the suddenly glaring lack of depth. Where the Tigers had T-Bob Hebert in 2011 and Josh Dworaczyk in 2012 as multiple-position backups with experience, LSU will be light in that utility department in 2013.

See the two-deep below for LSU's current depth situation, including years of classification and experience for each player.

LT: La'el Collins (Jr., 13 starts), Evan Washington (R-Jr., 0 starts)
LG:Vadal Alexander (So., 9 starts), Jonah Austin (R-So., 0 starts)
C: Elliott Porter (R-Jr., 1 start), Ethan Pocic (Fr., 0 starts)
RG: Trai Turner (R-So., 7 starts), Fehoko Fanaika (Jr., 0 starts)
RT: Jerald Hawkins (R-Fr., 0 starts), Andy Dodd (Fr., 0 starts)

There are two quick observations to be made: LSU has virtually no experience to speak of in its second five (Pocic, Fanaika and Dodd are first-year players while Austin and Washington have played sparingly in mop-up time) ... The Tigers do have some experience in the starting five, particularly with Collins, Alexander and Turner, but two of those three are in new positions.

All in all, most programs in the SEC would be thrilled to have players the caliber of Collins, Alexander, Turner and Hawkins. Talent isn't really the concern (although I continue to hear rumblings that Porter is struggling to carry the load at center). The bigger question pertains to chemistry and how this group plays off of one another given their notable lack of time together as a starting quintet.

I believe it's entirely possible LSU's O-Line gels enough to play with confidence and perform against TCU, but that doesn't negate the fact that this line will be a work in progress well into the SEC portion of the Tigers' schedule.


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