Today, kicking off Alabama week, Grimes discusses what it's like to go up against the Tide's defensive front (something he's done frequently in his last two stops prior to LSU), the continuing progression of Leonard Fournette and how the O-Line of the future is coming along for the Tigers.
Ben Love: You’ve mentioned improvement across the entire offense and how that’s trickled down to the line. I have to imagine Leonard Fournette is a big part of that. Just how good is this guy, even in practice where we don’t see him, and how does he make life easier for those offensive linemen?
Jeff Grimes: Yeah, there’s no question. That’s definitely what I was alluding to when I said I don’t think there’s anything drastic that’s changed with the offensive line other than just continual improvement. I would say the same has been true with the running backs. Leonard has certainly been a huge part of that, and he’ll only get better. I think we’re still not seeing how good he can really be as he continues to get experience and comfort with our offense.
But I’ll tell you what: Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee are great backs, too, and Darrel Williams as well for what he’s done. I think it’s a real strong benefit to us to have numerous running backs, and I know Coach [Les] Miles has always done it that way. But I tell you, when one guy gets a little banged up or a little tired, you just throw another guy in there and he comes in there like it’s the first play of the game whether it’s the third or fourth quarter. The stable of running backs have gotten better as the year’s gone on – just running hard, making good reasons. All of that obviously makes the line look better.
BL: After this season there will inevitably be some attrition up front. So how are those next guys in line shaping up? And are any of them starting to catch your eye with their play or leadership in practice?
JG: I’m really pleased with Ethan Pocic and what he’s done this year, playing two different positions for us in games but also being a guy that in practice we’ve prepped at tackle in case we had a rash of injuries there. He’s starting at guard but Ethan continues to get a lot of center reps in practice because he’s our next center in the game. So we’ve asked a lot of him, and he’s so reliable and so intelligent that sometimes we forget how young of a guy he is. He’s only in his second year in the program, so he’s a really, really valuable guy for us. Even though he’s young Ethan adds a lot of leadership to our group because of his work ethic and his diligence.
There are a number of other young guys that are coming on, too. I hesitate to say this guy in particular over another guy because I’ll end up leaving someone out. But I think that the group of young guys you’re talking about – K.J. Malone or Josh Boutte or William Clapp, whoever it is – those guys are all getting better. None of them are anywhere close to what our starting group is or they’d be playing, but there’s promise for those guys moving forward to leave a mark on this program.
JG: New numbers, same defense. It’s amazing what they do. I think I’ve played them six of the last seven years, and they really do a tremendous job of recruiting their style of defender and then developing players into what they want them to be. Every year it really feels like same song, different verse. The thing that helps them in terms of longevity is they play young guys, they play a lot of people, so when one guy graduates and the next guy in line is now starting, it’s not like he hasn’t played any football.
They’re strong, physical, understand the defense and do a number of things that create problems for you, particularly running to the football. Like always it’s going to be a great challenge but also a great opportunity for our team.