The improvement of LSU's offensive line has been a major storyline during the team's three-game winning streak.
TSD went straight to the source, first-year position coach Jeff Grimes, to get the scoop on how the Tigers transformed up front and what he thinks of the left-side duo of La'el Collins and Vadal Alexander.
Ben Love: The offensive line has progressed pretty noticeably over the last couple of weeks. Is there any one thing in particular that stands out to you as to how they were able to accomplish that and grow together?
Jeff Grimes: I think we’ve become a more physical group this past month. That’s the most important thing to me. Games are won or lost based on what you do at the line of scrimmage. I want to have a group that other people look at and go ‘Man, that’s the most physical offensive line in the league and maybe even the country.’ I think we’re moving in that direction. We certainly haven’t arrived yet, still have a lot of work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.
I wouldn’t say that the improvement is due to any one thing. I think our entire offense has improved. Some of the positive things that have taken place (with the offensive line) are because of improvement at the quarterback position, at the running back position, with the receivers. There are a lot of things people don’t see at times that we may get credit or blame for, or a quarterback or running back might, but really our entire team has improved this past month.
We’re doing a better job overall with the communication and everybody being on the same page in terms of the run game and the protections. I’m pleased that we’re making progress, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.
BL: What were some of the factors – whether it was shuffling players around or injuries or a new scheme – behind the line’s early season struggles and maybe reasons why it took some time to put the pieces together?
JG: There are obviously always chemistry issues. I don’t say that meaning we had problems, but any time you’re moving people around to different positions (it’s a factor). You have to be able to do that as an offensive line because you want to put your best five on the field. That involves musical chairs to some extent. However, once the guys have kind of settled into their spot, so to speak, I think everybody feels a little bit better.
But I don’t think there’s anything drastic that’s changed with the offensive line. I think we’ve gotten a little bit better each week as the year’s gone on. There are some times where things may look a certain way when that may not actually be the case, and that can be good or bad. So I think the truth of the matter is these guys have worked all year long. I’m really pleased with their willingness to work and eagerness to improve, take coaching and each week they’ve gotten better. That’s a testament to them because often groups that have a good bit of experience don’t improve as much down the latter part of their careers.
BL: Given your experience around some formidable offensive lines, is there something special about your current left-side tandem of La’el Collins and Vadal Alexander? And what all does having those two together allow this offense to do?
JG: We certainly feel like that is a strength for us; however, I’m pleased with Hawk (Jerald Hawkins) and Ethan Pocic as well and their progress on the right side. But those two guys have played a lot of football together, not always next to each other, but they’ve played a good bit next to each other. I think they’re getting very comfortable with each other. To have a pair that works together like that just gives you a certain comfort as a coach that when it comes down to a critical situation you can trust those guys to get the job done together.