After a brief offseason following the 2014 Outback Bowl, LSU football gets back in action on Friday, March 7, with the first of 15 practices leading up to the spring game.
Before the Tigers hit the Ponderosa, TSD is taking a look at every position on both sides of the ball, previewing where LSU stands and discussing the biggest storylines. Already we've examined the quarterback position as well as the other offensive skill players for the Tigers.
Today we'll turn our attention to the team's offensive line – guards, tackles and centers.
OT: La'el Collins (Sr.), Evan Washington (R-Sr.), Jerald Hawkins (R-So.), Andy Dodd (R-Fr.)
OG: Fehoko Fanaika (Sr.), Vadal Alexander (Jr.), Jonah Austin (R-Jr.), Josh Boutte (So.), K.J. Malone (R-Fr.)
C: Elliott Porter (R-Sr.), Ethan Pocic (So.)
- LSU returns 11 scholarship offensive linemen in 2014, all of whom will reportedly be healthy and available for spring ball. The even better news is that four of the Tigers' five regular starters from a season ago are back in the fold. They are: LT La'el Collins (6-5, 315), LG Vadal Alexander (6-6, 342), C Elliott Porter (6-4, 300) and RT Jerald Hawkins (6-6, 301). Only starting right guard Trai Turner got away, off to greener NFL pastures, leaving a sizeable hole on the right side of LSU's offensive line, now under the tutelage of first-year position coach Jeff Grimes.
Grimes will be tasked with narrowing down the remaining linemen and deciphering which player is best suited to take Turner's spot. The deceptive thing is, however, many of LSU's reserves from 2013 have yet to carve out an ideal position, leaving a lot of versatile players but none potentially dialed in enough at right guard to jump immediately into starter's shoes. Here are the names Grimes will consider, in order of how I currently see/hear things: Washington (6-6, 334), Austin (6-6, 324), Fanaika (6-6, 348) and Boutte (6-4, 333).
What's interesting is you could heap the other three names – Dodd (6-4, 322), Malone (6-3, 290) and Pocic (6-7, 301) – into that competition as well, and you'd probably be right. That's how wide-open it is. For the time being, before a single snap of spring ball, I'll leave these three behind the rest as Dodd played most at right tackle in practice last season, Pocic is the backup center and came in with a tackle's pedigree and Malone just seems to be a step behind the curve from the other young linemen. Of the original four names, Boutte is the youngest and has the most upside while Washington, who was a back-up tackle in 2013, is the most experienced. The early word is that Washington will be moved inside to give right guard a go, so he may be considered the favorite. Fanaika is the biggest option but least nimble on his feet, and Austin is an intriguing candidate as he spent the entirety of last season as the second-string left guard.
No matter who exits spring and ultimately starts the 2014 season at right guard, one thing is certain: LSU will be a deep unit up front this fall. Spring will be an important time period for the young wave of offensive linemen to develop.
OG: Garrett Brumfield (Fr.), William Clapp (Fr.)
- Neither of the two above additions are early entrants, hence you won't see them in pads at the Charles McClendon Practice Facility until August. They're listed just so that the scope of LSU's depth for 2014 can come into focus. Both signees are expected to suit up at guard for the Tigers. Brumfield (6-3, 285) appears to have a leg-up on Clapp (6-4, 275) before either hits campus this summer and could possibly contend for the starting right guard vacancy.
Which player(s) will exit spring as the frontrunner(s) at right guard?
- This is one of the toughest position battles to predict in the last four or five years on the gridiron for LSU, if for no other reason than the sheer volume of legitimate options. As enumerated above, Grimes could potentially consider as many as seven different players, eight including Brumfield, for the gig.
Whoever ends up there needs to be a run-blocking force, a non-negotiable with Hawkins, more in the lean pass-blocking mold, established at right tackle. Fanaika is the biggest player on LSU's O-Line and, according to last season's depth chart, is in-line to take over Turner's old job as the reigning back-up right guard. But don't expect Grimes or LSU to rest on their laurels with this one. Washington, Austin and Boutte are all very viable options (and more mobile than Fanaika), and that's not even mentioning Pocic, who the staff was incredibly high on last year. If Pocic ends up separating himself as one of the five best linemen, LSU's brain-trusts will find a way to get him in the starting lineup.
It's a tough call, and as always, the job won't be won in the spring. But it'll be interesting to see how much size, experience and solidarity at the position matter as far as criteria go.