Arnold, Johnson leads young OL into 2006

Coming into the 2006 season, there are several areas on this LSU Tiger football team that people could target as weak spots. Obviously everyone wants to talk about the quarterbacks, the health of LSU's running backs as well as the lack of depth at linebacker.

But the most glaring area of concern is no doubt the offensive line. Losing three starters from a year ago, including all-American Andrew Whitworth and all-SEC performers Rudy Niswanger and Nate Livings, there is no doubt why folks are worried about the Tigers' offensive front.

Lots of people may be worried, but that does not include the LSU offensive lineman. Being labeled a question mark isn't something that bother senior right tackle Brain Johnson.

"It really doesn't bother me," Johnson said. "We lost some great offensive linemen and us having to rely on younger talent, people can be skeptical. But as a team, we have to trust each other and I have all the faith in the world that those young guys are going to come in and do a great job."

Johnson said he and his linemates accept the challenge and look forward to proving themselves this season.

"I definitely think as a unit we like that challenge, a challenge for a group of guys that have to come in and step up," Johnson said. "I think we have all the makings of a great offensive line. We have some young guys, but when they get some experience, we will be ready to roll."

Junior preseason all-American Will Arnold said he hears the crticis, those who tag the Tigers' big men as a weakness. But the junior from Centerville, Miss. says he feels the O-Line is much better than they are getting credit for.

"I think we are better than we are getting credit for," Arnold said. "We have a tough, tough group of guys. A rough, tough group of offensive linemen that play hard, physical and I think that is going to be a plus for us big time. I feel really good about this group and am looking forward to getting out there."

Arnold and Johnson give the Tigers two experienced guards and sophomore Brett Helms started several games at center a year ago. But LSU will turn to redshirt freshman Ciron Black to fill the void left by Whitworth at left tackle. Livings is spot at left tackle will be filled by fifth-year senior and career reserve lineman Peter Dyakowski.

Many wonder if a redshirt freshman can pick up the slack left by Whitworth, protecting quarterback JaMarcus Russell's all-important blindside.

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Will Arnold

"Ciron has came a long ways," Arnold said. "He has stepped up and is playing hard. He has had some kinks here and there learning things, but everyone knows that is going to happen. Toward the end of camp, I have seen him make huge steps. He is a totally different person. He played well in the last few scrimmages."

Johnson said he has seen a noted improvement in Black from spring drills to Fall Camp.

"As a young player, Ciron has come in and shown that he is going to be a good football player here," Johnson said. "All he needs to do is get a few games under his belt and that is going to allow him to grow. I have seen a big change in him from the spring to now. He looks like he is going to be a great left tackle."

One thing the offensive line does lack is leadership. Whitworth and Niswanger were the heart and soul of that offensive line. Arnold said playing with those guys has helped him grow into a better leader.

"I think that for me playing with those guys, they were here before me and taught me" Arnold said. "They did a good job of leading and leading by example. That is the best way to do it. Hopefully, that is what I can do. I ty to make it fun for the younger guys. We are a really tight-knit group. We have a lot of fun together. But I think that is what they left, they left it (the offensive line) in good shape. They led by example, played hard, worked hard, doing the right thing and that has carried over."

Johnson said he feels everyone questions this year's offensive line because of the amount leadership lost from a year ago.

"I was very pleased to see all of the guys from last year move on to big things," Johnson said. "We lost a lot of leadership and it was a big concern, but there have been a lot of younger guys stepping up into that void and the leadership is growing. We are getting this team ready to play games."

Johnson said he has been pleasantly surprised at the number of younger players that have risen the occasions and have begun showing leadership qualities.

"In some cases it has been a surprise, but I knew we had some younger guys that were ready to step up," Johnson said. "We have some more even younger guys that, it may take a full season, but will be ready to step up into those roles when the time comes."

As talented as LSU's younger offensive linemen may be, one can never really be trained on what to expect when playing major college football. Johnson and Arnold have spent the better part of the last eight months working with their younger linemates getting them ready for football at this level.

"As a leader, I am not going to leave him out there to dry," Arnold said. "If he has some questions or needs help, I am there for him. In the game, I promise when I was coming up, I asked other people if I needed something. No doubt."

Johnson said the most effective way to christen a young player is to throw them into the fire. Game experience is the best way to learn.

"I try to prepare them for games, just like the guys did for me when I was coming up. But you really can't prepare for going in there and having that pressure on you. You cannot know that until you get in there. But after that first hit, you'll be all right.

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