Whitworth handling his starting tackle duties

When an offensive line is returning four out of five starters, a pessimistic fan might worry about that new fifth starter.<br><br>But in the case of Andrew Whitworth, the only people who should worry are the defensive linemen who have to line up against him.

The redshirt freshman from West Monroe stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 320 pounds, big enough to block out the sun or anything else that gets in his way.


Whitworth has been elevated into the starting lineup at left tackle after the loss of Kade Comeaux to Crohn's disease. The loss gave Whitworth a chance to move up in the depth chart at right tackle, but coaches decided to instead move last year's starter at left tackle, Rodney Reed, to the right side and place Whitworth on the left.


The reason for the switch is as simple as telling your right hand from your left. Reed is naturally right-handed and Whitworth naturally left, which makes it easier for them to get in the right and left-handed stances that their respective positions require.


Whitworth has been the first-string right tackle through the first week of fall camp, and true freshman Terrell McGill is being trained to be his backup. But if Whitworth were to be injured, the job to replace him would probably fall to Rudy Niswanger who is considered the sixth best lineman on the team


"It (the loss of Comeaux) has pushed me up on the depth chart, but I'm still in a spot where I have to earn the position," Whitworth told Tiger Rag.


Through three weeks of fall camp, coaches have been pleased with Whitworth's progress. He spent the entire 2001 season training for playing time behind Reed, who was backed up by Brad Smalling and Comeaux. Smalling was going to share right tackle duties with Comeaux but he chose to drop out school over the summer.


Saban feels Whitworth has cemented his role as a starter in August, while McGill continues his orientation into the LSU offense.


"I think Whitworth has the knowledge and experience right now," said Saban. "While they're both learning the position, there's no question in my mind who the first team guy is and who the second team guy is.


"The only effect I think (the loss of Comeaux) has all had is it's taken away some experience. We invested a lot of time in a couple of other guys (Comeaux and Smalling) who aren't there now and a couple of young guys are going to have to develop quickly now."


Left tackle is usually one of the most crucial positions on an offensive line as it provides the first line of protection on the right-handed quarterback's blindside. He is usually matched up against the defense's best pass rusher.


"Playing at left tackle is a big responsibility," said LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. "Tackle though, of all the line positions, as far as assignment wise, is easiest to learn because you're usually either blocking down (to a linebacker) or got the man on (the defensive lineman lined up opposite) probably 95 percent of the time."


The most obvious assets Whitworth brings to the position are his size and strength. He is built like the prototypical NFL left tackle and has very quick feet that enable him to move in pass protection. His massive wingspan allows him to get a great punch and extension on defensive lineman.


However, Whitworth still knows that there is work to be done, citing technique and flexibility as two things he feels he needs to improve.


"I feel like I had a sluggish fall (in 2001)," he said. "You know, freshman getting in here, high expectations, and I just don't think I adjusted myself that well, which is my fault.


"But in the spring I think I came around a lot, and my attitude is probably the biggest thing that I've improved."


Whitworth was a part of LSU's fabled 2001 recruiting class and was considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the country. Four starters for 2002 have already emerged from that class - Michael Clayton, Ben Wilkerson, Marcus Spears and Marquise Hill - and now Whitworth looks to make a similar impact.


"I knew those guys were going to come in and (make an impact), " said Whitworth. "I knew from playing with them in the all-star games in high school that those guys had the talent level to do that, but I've just had to take my time and get ready. Sometimes you have to catch some breaks to get in the lineup, and those guys caught their breaks before me, but now I've got mine. But playing time was never something I worried about."


During fall camp, it has been important for the Tiger offensive line to develop chemistry. Great offensive line units seem to act as one at times, picking up slack for each other and doing everything they can to help keep their quarterback upright and the offense moving.


"Every season you start with a new group (of linemen) because you lose your seniors," said offensive line coach George Yarno. "So every year training camp is really a time where your chemistry develops. Through spending time together and working hard and through adversity you build that chemistry, so I'm expecting them to grow as a group."


"I don't think chemistry will be a problem because all of us have a pretty good relationship," said Whitworth. "We do a good job of treating each other like a family. We just have to get together on the field with communication. That might be a little bit of a problem but we'll grow into it on the field. That's what fall camp is for."

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