IN SPOTLIGHT: A look at the o-line

The Tigers return three of their starting five from the Sugar Bowl in Ciron Black, Herman Johnson and Brett Helms, but when you factor Will Arnold into the equation the offensive line looks pretty stout for the 2007 campaign.

Note Here: This is the second installment of a 10-day series where we take a look at each position as the LSU Tigers prepare for spring practice which kicks off on Feb. 23.


A Look Back


The LSU offensive line took a hit with the departure of graduated seniors Peter Dyakowski and Brain Johnson, along with the exit of o-line coach Stacey Searels to Georgia.


The Tigers return three of their starting five from the Sugar Bowl in Ciron Black, Herman Johnson and Brett Helms, but when you factor Will Arnold into the equation the offensive line looks pretty stout for the 2007 campaign.


Ciron Black took over the left tackle spot in fall camp and never looked back. He started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman and was of three offensive linemen to accomplish that feat along with Brett Helms at center and Peter Dyakowski at right tackle.


Brian Johnson (11 starts) started off the year at one guard spot opposite of Will Arnold and when Johnson went down with an injury, Herman Johnson (10 starts) filled in. Right about the time Brian was able to play again, Arnold was lost for the season with some torn ligaments in his ankle so from that point on the two Johnson boys played opposite of one another and did a good job at solidifying the middle of the line.


Due to some minor nicks and bruises, and a few blowouts, LSU was able to get some backups into some games but did not go as far as having to pull the redshirt off of any of the four true freshmen. Carnell Stewart and Ryan Miller each saw action in seven games last year, while Andrew Decker and Max Holmes played in seven and six contests, respectively.


The offensive line as a whole got better as the season went along and did a good job of protecting the quarterback by giving up only 19 sacks on the year. The Tigers tied Tennessee and Vanderbilt for third in the SEC with Arkansas and Georgia finishing first and second respectively with nine and 17 sacks allowed.


Statistically speaking, the unit fared better in run blocking by paving the way for the running backs to the tune of 165.8 yards a game which put the Tigers second in the conference behind only Arkansas. Some media pundits say that stat is misleading because LSU ran all over the teams they outmanned but struggled against many of the conference opponents. While that may be true to some degree the credit and/or blame must be spread around equally to the running backs as well and should not be placed squarely on the broad shoulders of the offensive linemen.


What to Look for This Spring


The line was one of several positions that will have a changing of the guard as Greg Studrawa came over from Bowling Green to replace Stacey Searels as the o-line coach. Les Miles will probably have some input since the headman was an offensive lineman at Michigan but how much input is anyone's guess.


At the start of the 2006 season, most felt that the key to a successful campaign was the health of the boys down in the trenches. There were a few minor injuries but the only major setback was the ankle injury to Will Arnold. Fortunately, Herman Johnson stepped in and played very well in Arnold's absence and should be primed to have a banner year in 2007.


Heading into camp, the starting five will probably look like Ciron Black and Carnell Stewart at tackle, Herman Johnson and Will Arnold at guard, and Brett Helms at center.

Arnold is the big question mark only because the coaches may bring him along slowly because they know what he can do and he has been nicked up most of his career. With the start of spring practice earlier than usual he may need some extra time to fully recover from his injury and there really is no sense in putting him out there unless he is completely healed and rehabilitated.


After the five guys mentioned above, there are at least nine players that will try to crack the two-deep chart this spring.


Spring practice is a good time for experimentation and several players will be looked at and shuffled around along the interior line to see where they belong.


Versatility is always a huge plus and that is what redshirt freshman Zhamal Thomas brings to the table. He is in the same mold as Brian Johnson in the fact that he can play tackle or guard but the Tigers have a bigger need for playing on the edge right now so look for Thomas to get a lot of work there in camp. He has quick feet and very long arms that are ideal for protecting the passer on the end.


Someone else to keep an eye on is Mark Snyder, who is relatively new to the offensive line. Snyder played tight end up until his senior year when he transferred to West Monroe. It took a little time adjusting to the position and getting his body ready to play the position but late last season Snyder began showing marked improvement. By the time August rolls around he could be ready to get into the mix at one of the tackle spots.


Kyle Anderson, a former 4-star tight end when he came out of high school, will get a strong look at one of the tackle spots and he could have a bright future at one side. Most felt that Anderson would end up moving to tackle once he moved on to the college level but he was dead-set on playing tight end. His speed and ability to stretch the field was the biggest thing holding him back from getting more involved at tight end but he does have good feet and enough quickness to handle the edge rushers.


When Ryan Miller came out of Lake Charles-Barbe he was one of the more highly recruited centers in the country but many expected him to end up playing tackle because of his body. At 6-6 and 318 pounds, Miller seems like a better fit at tackle rather than center and he is supposed to cross-train at every spot on the line this spring.


Max Holmes is another center that is supposed to cross-train between there and guard and some of that is due to the play and potential of redshirt freshman Matt Allen.


Allen is very quick off the ball and the staff is very excited about his potential along with fellow redshirt freshman Steven Singleton.


Singleton is a pure guard whereas Allen could play center or guard based on the team's need. Allen brings a lot of athleticism to the field while Singleton is very strong and a punishing run blocker. The biggest obstacle facing Singleton has been keeping his weight where the coaches want it but word from the grapevine is that he is looking good.


The depth that LSU has along the defensive line is as good as it gets at any level of football and that played a big role in Lyle Hitt moving over to the offensive side of the ball. He is someone that is expected to make a lot of noise at guard and the staff has some high expectations for him.


Andrew Decker also played in seven games in 2006 and is another one to follow this spring as Studrawa identifies the guys he can count on for 2007 and beyond.


Help Is On the Way


Les Miles inherited a team with an enormous amount of talent but the one area that LSU was not very deep at and where there was a drop-off in depth was along the offensive line.

The headman has shored up that position in a big way since he has been in Baton Rouge and the crop he reeled in with the 2007 class was very impressive.


LSU needed offensive tackles and Miles went out and got three good-looking targets in Ernest McCoy, Jarvis Jones and Josh Dworaczyk.


It's extremely difficult for offensive linemen to step in and play as true freshmen but if one guy out of this class is called upon to do so then it will likely be McCoy. He already has the size, strength and footwork to play left tackle but getting the mental side down will be his and every other young lineman's toughest chore.


Tray Allen may have gotten all of the hype for being the No. 1 offensive lineman in Texas for 2007 but if you ask most observers they will tell you that Jones has the potential to be as good, if not better, than Allen. The only thing holding the 6-6, 270-pounder back right now is his weight and upper body strength but that will come once he gets in Tommy Moffitt's strength and conditioning program.


Scouts were in awe of Jones' potential and the same can be said for Dworaczyk. He spent most of his time at defensive end but the 6-6, 275-pounder has a great frame for an offensive lineman. Like Jones, Dworaczyk will benefit from Moffitt's program and once he gets his technique down he will be an impact player for the Tigers.


Finding a true center is tough at the high school level, but Miles found one of the nation's best in T-Bob Hebert. The only knock on the 6-3, 260-pounder is that he needs to get bigger and stronger. What coaches do not knock on Hebert is his athleticism and passion for the game. After a redshirt year, Hebert should be in the 275-pound range and then he will be better equipped for taking on the massive defensive linemen in the SEC.


Bastrop's Kentravis Aubrey played strictly on the defensive line in high school but look for him to make the move over to guard once he gets to LSU. It may take a little time but the coaches are real high on the type of lineman he can turn into.


Staying healthy along the offensive front is going to be pivotal for LSU again in 2007. There are plenty of capable players but a wealth of inexperience.


After 2007, though, the future looks very bright and no one is happier than the former Michigan offensive lineman himself, Les Miles.





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