- Gary Laney, Reporter, GeauxTigerNation
It's supposed to be the battle of the titans in August camp.
On paper, the La'el Collins vs. Josh Dworaczyk battle for LSU's starting left guard spot is epic. Dworaczyk is the grizzled sixth-year senior with 26 career starts on two bowl teams. He is this year's comeback story after the NCAA gave him a sixth year after he was lost for 2011 with a knee injury. Collins is the player of the future, the No. 8 player in the 2011 ESPN150 who is ready to bring his enormous talents to the forefront as a first-time starter.
It's one of those where you throw the popcorn in the microwave, then sit down and enjoy the two going at each other for the starting job.
Except for one thing: The battle is rather congenial. Dworaczyk sees a friend in Collins and Collins sees not an adversary, but a mentor.
"Him getting his sixth year is the best thing," Collins said of Dworaczyk. "He's not just a guy on the team, a teammate, he's a guy who can coach. He's a guy who can tell you what you did wrong, tell you how to beat that. He's a guy who can get you better."
After his star-studded career at Baton Rouge's Redemportist High, Collins arrived at LSU just in time to see Dworaczyk's senior season halted by a torn ACL in his knee shortly after the start of August camp in 2011.
At about the same time, offensive line coach Greg Studrawa became offensive coordinator after Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, forcing him to give up OC duties to take the less stressful role of coaching quarterbacks only.
The change sent Studrawa from the sideline to the press box on game nights. He needed somebody to take his place in working hands-on with the linemen on the sideline. The choice? His injured left guard. Dworaczyk spent most of 2011 with headsets on, coaching offensive linemen on the sideline.
From the sideline, Dworaczyk was more than a little impressed by what he saw in the highly-touted freshman, who played 46 snaps as a backup. Asked how good the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Collins' raw potential is, Dworaczyk chuckled.
"He's great, man," he said. "He's got some of the best footwork and strength I've seen of most of the young guys I've been around. It's something, he did a great job in high school of preparing and since he's been here, he's worked really hard."
Dworaczyk was no slouch himself. As a redshirt freshman at LSU in 2008, he was lean and athletic enough to alternate between backing up at guard in his now-familiar No. 68 jersey and playing as a blocking tight end in jumbo packages while wearing No. 81.
In 2009, he settled into a starting role at left guard, getting the nod every game for the next two seasons, including 14 games when he played every offensive snap, all at left guard. That all came crashing down last August.
He was replaced by Will Blackwell who was the only senior starter on the 2011 Tigers line. It was natural for that spot to go to Collins, the most talented of the young Tiger linemen. In the meantime, Dworaczyk appealed to the NCAA for a sixth season, which was granted.
Collins ran with the first team all spring as Dworaczyk was eased back into the fold. Monday's practice was the first full-contact work for Dworaczyk since the 2011 Cotton Bowl when he was the unquestioned starter at left guard.
"I think Josh Dworaczyk can be a swing guy because he can play tackle or center, for that matter," head coach Les Miles said. "I think the other guys are more comfortable in the spots they are at. I think you would like to leave La'el Collins where he's at rather than swing positions. Let the other guy swing."
For now, at least, that left guard spot is something the grizzled senior is going to try to hold on to, even as he helps his challenger get better.
"The competition aspect of it is there," Dworaczyk said. "It's something that's always been a part of the way I play football, the way I practice football. I'm always trying to compete. I think me and him is great competition."
3dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon