Note: This is part four of a series that takes a look at each position heading into spring camp.
Projected Spring Depth Chart
OT Ciron Black 6-5, 325, Sr. Tyler (Texas)
OG Josh Dworaczyk 6-6, 286, So. New Iberia (La.)
C P.J. Lonergan 6-4, 288, Fr. New Orleans (La.)
C Will Blackwell 6-4, 298, So. West Monroe (La.)
OG Lyle Hitt 6-2, 289, Sr. Baton Rouge (La.)
OT Joseph Barksdale 6-5, 315, Jr. Detroit (Mich.)
OT Greg Shaw 6-5, 290, So. Hialeah (Fla.)
OG Will Blackwell 6-4, 298, So. West Monroe (La.)
OG Thomas Parsons 6-5, 276, Fr. Canyon Lake (Texas)
C P.J. Lonergan 6-4, 288, Fr. New Orleans (La.)
OG Clay Spencer 6-6, 281, Fr. Baton Rouge (La.)
OT Alex Hurst 6-6, 332, Fr. Bartlett (Tenn.)
T-Bob Hebert 6-3, 282, So. Norcross (Ga.)
Trey Helms 6-4, 259, So. Stuttgart (Ark.)
Tyler Simmons 6-1, 312, Fr. Winnsboro (La.)
Richard Dugas 6-1, 275, Jr. Lincoln (Neb.)
A Look Back
LSU offensive line coach Greg Studrawa sometimes wore a look of confusion during the Tigers run to an 8-5 season. One week his unit looked spot on then the next week it was as confused as it could be.
Anchored by Second Team All-SEC lineman Ciron Black, the Tiger line paved the way for the running back committee that averaged 166.8 yards per game, good for fourth in the Southeastern Conference, and an offense that put up 30.9 points per contest.
Black finished with a team best 68 knockdowns and graded out at 85 percent or better nine times on the year. The Tyler-native ran his streak of consecutive starts at left tackle to 40 straight. The senior also played every snap from scrimmage nine times on the season.
Yet, despite the return of four starters from the 2007 National Championship unit, the Tiger line looked suspect on multiple occasions.
When they traveled to The Swamp, a date circled in red on the Bayou Bengal schedule since their 2007 showdown at Death Valley, the outcome was not what head coach Les Miles had drawn up.
Being dominated all afternoon in the trenches, the Tigers managed just 80 yards rushing. Charles Scott, who had been on a tear up to that point, carried the ball 12 times for just 35 yards. The senior went under 40 yards just once more on the season when he carried the ball 12 times for 28 yards against Arkansas. Both of the SEC showdowns were losses for the Tigers which raised questions of whether or not the offensive line was as good as it was tabbed to be.
With the core of the unit still intact, Studrawa will be looking to see if his men in the trenches will be able to work through the 2009 schedule with consistency from start to finish?
After a season ending knee injury, as well as his subsequent surgery, T-Bob Hebert will be limited this spring after many felt that he had a chance to take over the starting job at center that Brett Helms held for three years.
The rehab process will put the Norcross-native on the sidelines for the meantime, and as a result P.J. Lonergan and Will Blackwell, who will also cross-train at guard, will get the majority of the reps at center.
Black, who runs an impressive 5.2 in the 40-yard-dash, had NFL scouts pinning him as one of the top tackles in the country heading into the 2009 draft. After seeing a deep class taking to the league in April, Black gave Miles his pledge to return for one last season. The move to stay should secure him as a first round pick in 2010 if he plays up to the level he is capable of playing at.
Dworaczyk, who redshirted as a freshman in 2007, looks to jump into the rotation at left guard with the loss of Herman Johnson to graduation.
The New Iberia-native worked in a reserve role last season on the right side, but his versatility and six-foot-six frame lend him the opportunity to make the switch to the LSU quarterback’s blind side.
Barksdale, who started all 13 games at right tackle in 2008, returns to the same position after grading out at 80 percent or better ten times on the year. The Detroit-native finished with 34 knockdown blocks after playing in every offensive snap in eight of LSU’s 13 games, a number most expect to rise heading into his second full season of work.
Playing alongside of Barksdale for the second year in a row will be Lyle Hitt, who enters his third year as a starter at right guard.
LSU's front will have two new starters in 2009
Perhaps just as important for Studrawa and the Tigers this spring is developing a solid second unit.
The cast of characters is talented but young with only two sophomores – three if you count Hebert – and four redshirt freshmen.
The loss of Earnest McCoy, who has returned home to Florida, does not help the depth situation and he was the fifth offensive lineman that LSU has lost over the past 12-15 months to either transfer or injury.
Still, the talent is there and this spring will be key for guys who were highly acclaimed out of high school such as Lonergan, Blackwell, Greg Shaw, Clay Spencer, Alex Hurst and Thomas Parsons.
Two Burning Questions Heading into the Spring
1) What is the status of T-Bob Hebert?
Looking to make his mark in a reserve role last season, Hebert sat behind Helms on the two-deep chart. In the meantime, the center by trade served on the Tigers’ first team punt and kick return units.
On the first punt against South Carolina, Hebert was running in coverage when he planted his left leg awkwardly, seeing his knee and leg bend into opposite directions as a result. Hebert went down clutching his left knee, and the results would show why. The Greater Atlanta Christian graduate suffered a torn ACL, which sidelined him for the rest of the year.
Heading into the spring still rehabbing the knee, Hebert will see Lonergan and Blackwell battle it out at center. Miles said that Hebert’s rehab has gone well and he will participate in some drills this spring.
With the departure of Helms and Ryan Miller, however, the Tigers are left counting down the days until Hebert’s full return.
2) How much will Black’s decision to return bolster LSU's offensive line?
When Black decided to return to LSU for his senior season, not only did it give LSU a dependable fixture protecting the quarterback’s blind side, but it also gave Les Miles something the team was lacking in 2008 – senior leadership.
Black, along with Charles Scott and Brandon LaFell, gives the Tigers three veteran leaders, to go with guys like Richard Dickson, Charles Alexander and Rahim Alem.
Along with providing leadership though, Black also gives the Tigers a four-year starter at left tackle. That doesn’t happen often in the Southeastern Conference and it should really aid Dworaczyk and whoever the starting center is as both will be thrown into the fire in 2009.
LSU's offensive line may struggle early on as it gets used to working as a unit, but there is no reason the line can’t be better than it was last season by the time it hits the middle of the schedule which includes dates with Georgia, Florida and Auburn in a four-week stretch.